Saturday, December 12, 2015

Composting and Growing Organically

Growing Organic

I hear this comment a lot, "You can't grow _____________ organically."  Of course you can!  Everything on my property, garden, berries, orchard, lawn, flower beds, and landscape shrubs and trees are all grown organically.

We've become mindless gardeners relying on chemical quick fixes without even understanding the purposes or the effects those chemicals have on our gardens, food, and our health. 

Organic gardening is much more than growing without chemicals.  Organic growing methods combine the science of soils and plant biology.  All your gardening problems start and end in the soil.

Organic methods focus on building your soil structure and maintaining a healthy soil food web.  The soil microbes then provide the plants with nutrients, disease resistance, increased vigor and pest resistance you need to get a bountiful harvest.

The goal is to establish a living soil teaming with life. You are a microbe manager. Building soil structure and a healthy soil food web are both accomplished by adding organic matter in the form of compost, aged manures, or green manures. This matter feeds the microbes and the microbe activity provides the nutrients for you plants.

Your goal every year is to return quality organic matter to the soil.  Technically you don't need a green thumb but a brown thumb and a very good wheelbarrow.

The Soil Food Web

Plants are amazing.  They control the soil food web for their own benefit!  Working with nature and not against her only makes sense.  The rhizosphere is a very small jellylike zone around the roots containing a mix of soil organisms.

Why are they there?  Plants secrete chemicals called exudates.  These wake up, attract, and encourage specific beneficial bacteria and fungi.  As these organisms die or excrete wastes, nutrients are available right at the root zone of the plants. There is a relationship established that benefits the microbes and the plant.  Chemical fertilizers kill microbes and never build your soil structure.

So what can you grow organically?  Everything.  Choose to grow organically you will have larger, healthier, and more reliable harvests. The more you educate yourself about soils the more you understand what you need to to and how to do it.

The book, Teaming with Microbes, opened my eyes and helped me understand what my goal was as an organic gardener. I'm so glad that the interest in organic gardening is growing.  Gardening organically will feed your family and not your frustrations.  It is also more economical and easily sustainable if you have your own manure factories- horses, cows, goats, ducks, or chickens.


Now is a great time to start composting so you have a source of organic matter available.  We have goats, chickens, and ducks.  The goats provide the bulk of our compost.  We clean out the stalls which have goat pellets, pine shavings, and old hay (goats are picker eaters than you think).  All this is put in a pile.  Compost piles need to be at least 4x4x4 feet in order to generate heat. Try to add equal parts of brown and green material. They also need to be kept moist and turned occasionally.  This allows air into the pile.  Anaerobic decomposing produces a smelly mess.  Aerobic decomposing does not smell.  No smelly compost piles.That's the goal.

When building your pile no fancy system is necessary, but on a small scale it does make it nice.  We use a backhoe to turn our pile. You can build the pile over time adding kitchen vegetable scraps and lawn clippings (from a chemical free lawn), animal manures, hay, and straw.  Wet the contents as you add materials.  It's a good idea to keep the top flat and indented so the water soaks into the pile and doesn't run off the sides. Eventually start a new pile and let this one cook.  Wet and turn it occasionally.

I realize the are entire books written on composting and by having differing brown to green material ratios you can produce  different types of  compost.  This is one area of gardening, you do not need to stress over or over complicate.  Basically, if you put it in a pile it will eventually decompose.  By piling it at least in a 4x4x4 pile, wetting, it, and turning it you are speeding up the process.  So if you have a shovel and a bare piece of ground and materials you have everything you need to start composting.

Compost Contributors
The "pile" and next years organic matter.

Four good reasons to grow organically:  my grandkids!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Garden Books For Children: Inspire The Next Generation

Gardening Tips From My Grandchildren!

  • Gather your tools.  Get excited we are going to garden!
  • Dig a hole.
  • Thoroughly explore the hole for worms, bugs, and dirt clods
  • Sit in your hole to be sure your plant will be comfortable there
  • Plant and water
  • Enjoy your harvests!

Educate and Inspire The Next Generation

Be an inspiration to your kids and grandchildren! Get involved in your neighborhood and community.  Pass on your love of gardening and knowledge of botany.  There are so many wonderful resources to help you teach and inspire.  After home schooling 5 children for 21 years, I have some favorite resources that will most definite educate and inspire both you and your children. 

There are so many gardening and botany books that are specifically written for children.  Here's what I look for in a good children's book.
  1. A whole book written by an author who is passionate about their subject.  
  2. Beautiful and accurate illustrations.
  3. Includes lots of hands on projects
  4. Does not water down the subject matter.  Our children can understand much more than we give them credit for
  5. Always open the books and read the first couple of pages.  If you do not want to read on neither will your children
  6. Collect a variety of books:  read a loud books, plant identification books, curriculum book,  books that integrate other subject matter into gardening and botany.

Some Favorites


Linnea's Windowsill Garden by Christina Bjorke & Lena Anderson

 Linnea is named after Carolus Linnaeas who classified and gave plants their Latin names.  It is also a woodland flower.  With Linnea, you will explore all the possibilities of an indoor garden.  This is a perfect winter book because all the projects are indoors.  You will plant pits, seeds, and bulbs. Linnea teaches you how to keep a plant happy, how to water, plant, fertilize, and take a cutting.

You will make garden cress cheese from homegrown cress, plant an Amaryllis bulb, and start your own plant newspaper.  Linnea calls her garden newspaper The Green Gazette. Excellent, highly recommended children's, teen, and adult book. Learn together and love learning.

Learn how plants grow with scarlet runner beans.

Try planting these seeds and pits.

  Linnea in Monet's Garden

 Linnea visits Claude Monet's garden!  See the inspiration for many of Monet's famous paintings, visit his gardens, home, and meets his family.  Monet was an impressionist painter that lived in a pink house in Giverny with eight children.  

 If you live near Southern California there are some great museums to visit to see the original paintings of Monet and other artists who are inspired by the beauty of nature.  Our family made a few trips to the Norton Simon, The Getty, and LA County Museum.  The Huntington is a fabulous botanical garden to visit.  In Utah, Thanksgiving Point has beautiful gardens also.  Take a sketch book, camera, and prepare to be inspired.

  Linnea's Almanac is also available.  I love this whole series.

Camille and the Sunflowers

This is a fun read aloud book to introduce you to Vincent van Gogh.  Although this book does not teach specifically about gardening it is a great book to accompany your study of composite flowers and of course planting a sunflower garden.  Be sure to grow giant sunflowers to enter in the county fair.

Exploring Creation with Botany by Fulbright an Apologia Science Book

 If you plan on exploring the world of plants in your home school curriculum, this is my favorite botany curriculum.  It can be done in a semester or a year depending on the age.  It is designed for middle school but can be adapted to any age.  It includes hands on demonstrations, projects, and a website for additional materials.  Have each child keep a notebook of narration, sketches, and experiments.  I love all the Apologia Science series.

Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock

This is a reference book for parents.  This is a classic written in 1911 for elementary school teachers as a handbook for the teacher.  It includes the study of all living things except humans.  This handbook is meant to be used outdoors in nature observing, inquiring, and exploring nature.  Each unit has study questions to keep you thinking.  A great addition to any science curriculum.

Field Guides

There are many good field guides available to identify the native plants in your area.  Visitor's centers at national and state parks are a great place to find some good resources on native plants and animals.  

Start a pressed flower and leaf collection of native plants you identify on hikes in your area.This is a fun thing to start with grandchildren.  Each time they visit they can hike with you and add to the collection.

Local Resources and Programs

Your extension office may offer a Junior Master Gardener program.  The resources may be available to you without enrolling in a course if travel does not permit it.  You could also find a master gardener in your area and encourage them to teach this course locally.  

4-H is another excellent program to get involved in.  Other local events that can inspire young gardeners are county fairs and having a booth at a farmer's market.  Some county fairs offer cash prizes which kids love.  Having judged our country fair, I love seeing a whole family come in and each member enter their produce.  They have entries for vegetables, fruits, herbs, field crops, and flower arranging. 

Library Book Sales, Thrift Stores, and Antique Stores

Some of my favorite books were purchased at library book sales, antique stores, and thrift stores.  Many modern youth books are all photos and no substance.  In my opinion they are very "dumbed" down, dull, and uninspiring.  

Below are two books published in 1956 and 1965.  The have a single author who is passionate about the subject matter.  The illustrations are wonderful and they are wonderfully written. 

There are many other great children's books on gardening and botany.  I would love to hear about some of your favorites.  Regardless of your age you are never too old to learn and inspire a love of learning in others.

Below are links to these books on Amazon.  They can also be purchased  through home school resources.   Rainbow Resouce is an excellent and reasonably priced place to purchase home school supplies and books.

The flower press shown below can be easily made at home at a fraction of the cost.  I included the link so you can see how to make it.  Having the screws with wing nuts works very well and allows you to have enough pressure to get a good press. Use cardboard and paper in between the layers.