Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Good Time to Share Green Gardening Tips

A while back, we asked Johnny's customers for their ideas on how to conserve resources with sustainable agriculture methods. Below are a few of their stories and tips:

Drip irrigation gets to the root of the problem at Mass. farm

One of the major projects this past winter was the creation of a drip tape layer. It works by digging a furrow roughly 4 inches deep (can be changed by adjusting the mid mount hydraulics). The tape is laid into the trench and at the same time organic pelletized chicken manure is added  to the soil. Cultivator sweeps then roughly fill in the trench. Finally the bed shaper creates a nice even smooth bed and marks a double row. Thanks to the ease of drip installation, roughly 90% of our crops are now on drip irrigation. This means we can water more effeciently placing the water directly on the root system, helps to eliminate soil errosion, prevents runoff of fertilizers, starves weeds in the pathways of water saving us from having to cultivate and best of all lowers the risk of fungus and foliage disease meaning we have to spray less. The ability to  mix in the organic manure into the soil makes the nutrients more readily available, and also helps to runoff of fertilzer. The best part of this addition to our tractor is that all the steps for getting a row ready for plating installation of irrigation, fertilizing, bed shaping and double row spacing are completed with a single pass of a tractor, allowing us to be more efficient with our time, resources and money!
Happy Farming
Your friends at Small Farm
Stow, MA

Recycle whatever is available

I use a lot of things. Since we moved to Ohio from Texas and haven’t sold our house in Houston, money it tight. I use plastic milk jugs with lid and a small hole in the bottom to water my vegetables. I also get leaves, grass clipping, and any green matter to make compost. I also add horse manure. I rotate my crops. I also cover my potatoes with straw instead of hilling. My husband is working out of state and I just can’t do it all. I also use organic sprays on all my plants. I also use my chicken and turkey egg shells to grind up and use as additive to my soil.

Soil enhancements, naturally

I have a rather large garden.  I do not use chemical herbicides, insecticides, or fertilizers -- and organic ones only sparingly. In my opinion, the fundamental key to success is healthy soil. Healthy soil yields healthy plants which are more tolerant of fickle weather conditions and normal insect infestations. I've surrounded the garden with bird houses and gourds for the birds which definitely keep down the bug population. I include flowers with the vegetables to attract beneficial insects. And, I've turned hard, nutrient deficient soil, into a rich medium for the plants. Admittedly, it takes a little time, but within a few years the change is dramatic. Each year, I rake my rows into raised beds. Each has a soaker hose in it. In some cases, I use black plastic (tomatoes), compost (beans etc), and hay (potatoes). In between the rows, I sow White Dutch Clover. I cut it with the perimeter grass that goes into the compost.  There is no exposed soil during the growing season. After the cool weather crops (broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and cabbage) are harvested, I sow buckwheat in their rows. At season's end, after the large plants are removed, everything is tilled under adding biomass to the soil. To prevent erosion over the winter months, Winter Rye is sown, and in no time the the entire area is again covered with plant life. Come Spring, the Winter Rye is turned under adding more biomass to the soil, and the cycle repeats itself. 
Montrose, PA

Square foot gardening make difference in Minnesota

We live in the country in central Minnesota. We have horses and hens. We are vegetarians and compost all our food waste all year 'round, except what we feed to our hens (it all comes back to us as chicken manure and eggs). We compost egg shells and horse manure, too.
I did some experimenting in the garden this year so-so results last year. I did "square foot gardening" instead of row planting in dirt. We made 4' x 4'
boxes and filled them with a half-foot of a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss. It's worked surprisingly well. It's very easy to weed - the mixture is always crumbly and everything is within easy reach. It takes so much less space, too.
When I realized I had more plants than raised beds (I started too many seeds indoors - they look so cute and little when they are sprouting, I got carried away), I rummaged through the garage and found a half dozen large flower pots. I planted tomatoes and peppers in the "mix" (again, no dirt).
These, too, are doing wonderfully and are easy to weed and water, plus I can move them to safety if a tornado is coming.
I keep water in 5-gallon pails that my horse supplements come in, and pour water from coffee cans.
To complete my garden area, I cut up large cardboard boxes, laid them on the ground and put mulch over it. (I always ask the power line guys to dump a load of wood chips when they are trimming in our area, and they are more than happy to oblige.) No weeding!
Finally, I still had too many tomato plants, so I said what the heck, and planted them directly in our huge compost pile. I now have a veritable tomato jungle. (Warning: don't do this with fresh cow manure; we have horse and chicken manure.)
Some things are not worth our growing, such as sweet corn. We buy that from a neighbor who does a much better job than we could do and we eat corn every day in August. Other vegetables we don't grow (for lack of room or effort), such as eggplant, I buy at our local farmer's market.
A final tip: plant your garden close to the house. Our garden is just outside the dining room window. I can see right away what needs watering or weeding, and the wild critters don't bother my vegetables the way they would if they were a ways away. The raised beds and pots are nice looking. Who needs more lawn?
In summary: plant in containers; get free mulch from the power line company; make friends with a horse owner so you, too, can have a large compost pile; put items to new uses instead of throwing them away; and keep things close by.
I love watching my little darlings grow up from the seeds I bought from Johnny's.
Monticello MN

Compost with hens; conserve with grey water system

We "go green" by doing the following:
a) Composting all kitchen scraps, plant waste (clippings etc.) and animal manures. We have a 3 tiered system that utilizes our 14 hens as composting divas. They have a wooden composter in their pen and spend part of their day mixing up our compost, eating bugs and providing additional nitrigen fertilizer as they go. From here, the compost is rotated out into two additional composters for hot composting and finishing and placed on our garden beds.
b) We use a combination of horse manure and thick layers of straw mulch (rice straw or wheat straw) in garden beds. This helps to conserve water and keep soil temperatures within a reasonable range;
c) We don't have a formal grey water system but do save the initial water in our shower when we first turn on the faucet (the water that runs cold before the water from the heater can get to your shower). This water is used to water our veggie and flower starts and any plants within reasonable distance of our front/back door area.
d) Also, we use a small electic fountain pump and tubing to pump our bathwather outside and water trees and ornamentals. 
e) We ordered and installed 90% shade fabric over our patio cover and our side yard to help shade the house and yard. Although we have many trees, this fabric really makes a difference in the hot afternoon sun.

Help from horses

I grow an organic vegetable garden, starting with compost we make from our horse manure. When it is finished, it looks like dark earth, it's filled with earthworms and has no odor. We also use this compost to refertilize the horse paddocks, my flower garden beds,  and the lawn, and to hill up the potato plants. I mulch the vegetables with a layer of recycled newspaper (a tip from my sister)  or the torn open  brown paper bag from my horse bedding, and cover that with lawn clippings and/ or uneaten  hay that has dried and bleached in the sun.  Only organic pesticides are used. I have used a soaker hose in the past, but with this mulch layer, I haven't  had to this year. I only water as needed since we have a well.

Goats assist desert grower

Living in the Southwest has been both a challenge and a blessing as far as gardening goes. Luckily, I've had some help from a few of my 'girls'. I milk dairy goats for our family milk supply and goat manure is one of the only manures that can be put directly onto a garden without burning it. I've used it to build up my soil for years. What makes this even more 'green' is the fact that we own a landscape business, and instead of going into the landfill, we sort our tree, shrub, and grass clippings and feed everything non-poisonous to the girls. After the girls strip off all the foliage and the bark, we cut the branches into lengths for firewood. We also feed the plentiful mesquite pods, which are sweet and high in protein to the goats. 
Another way to be green down here in the desert is to find out what grows well and researching has led me to many great resources. Not a whole lot actually produces here in August, but there are a few things that flourish, like yard long beans, okra, and armenian cucumbers. Tomato and pepper plants can be perennial if you cut them back in September they will produce a second crop in the fall. Protect them from the frosts of winter and the spring crop will be even bigger. Microclimate is important, as well as understanding how to manipulate the growing seasons that are divided by heat in the summer, and frosts in the winter. I've learned the most from researching Native American Indian methods of companion planting, planting in waffle grids - in the depressions (not on top of the rows), and water-saving varieties.   

More to come.

We'll try to publish more of these customer tips on a monthly basis. If you have your own ideas you'd enjoy sharing, please leave a comment, or send us an email. And feel free to share your photos or videos by joining Johnny's Flickr photo sharing network or Johnny's Facebook page.

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