“To forget how to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” M. Gandhi
It seems like nothing much is happening to the natural world around us. Winter has a couple of weeks yet to linger around. Though hostas peek through the snow, spring bulbs sprout a few leaves and tease us by popping up a little early, it’s still winter. This time and place on the wheel are traditionally thought to be a quieter time, a time for making garden plans, checking seed supplies, a time for dreaming of the blossoms to come. A tension builds though, before spring’s explosions of flower and beauty. Can you feel it? Though we have snow on the ground here in the NE, birds are more active, even tree buds are more obvious.
My podcast guest this week, Dan Blanchard, Author, Teacher, Coach is passionate about growing positive relationships. He shared a couple of stories about how his honesty, though not popular in the moment, touched a student. Dan reaped the rewards years later.
Working with our soil is about relationship too. Soon we will be digging in this dirt, itchy to plant seeds. What is your relationship to dirt? Sounds silly but to farmers and gardeners, the soil is the source of fertility on this planet. Do you take the soil for granted? What does soil mean to you? Have you taken a walk lately, felt the cold bite your cheeks, felt the sun getting warmer, appreciated the clear blue skies? What about putting your awareness to the ground, where so much is taking place. Tension is building. It has to. It takes tremendous energy for a seed to break out of its shell and begin its journey of growth and potential. Like the teenagers that Dan works with, we have to wait and watch. Under the right conditions, we blossom and so does the earth.
Getting back to our gardens: I highly recommend a soil sample of your garden beds before you plant. Contact your local agricultural extension office to obtain a kit and easy directions. The fees are usually nominal and the results worth it. Or use a lab like Logan Labs in Ohio for a more comprehensive analysis which I highly recommend. It cost a little more but if micro and macronutrients are not in proper ratios you could be wasting your time and money adding amendments that will not be able to be utilized. Also, take a separate sample for different areas. For example, collect one soil sample from your vegetable area, a separate sample for the ornamentals, And again, take a separate sample for flowers or for blueberries. Different types of plants have different needs.
Lastly, if or when you can, take time to smell the soil, feel it….be grateful. It is our lifeblood. We have not been good stewards either. Remember “humus” comes from the same root as “humble”. So being grateful begins to foster a more meaningful relationship, a more respectful one with the dirt beneath our feet. If it works for us then it works for all that we seek to grow. Remember all comments are appreciated. Judith
What’s your favorite Italian dish? Eggplant parmesan is one of my favorites, especially with a flavorful tomato sauce. It’s funny though that we think of Italian cuisine with tomatoes when they are thought to originate in the Americas. Settlers, not sure who brought this flavorful plant back to Europe in the 16th century. There are some plants still in the wild of Peru and Ecuador. Thomas Jefferson grew them but it took till the 1800s for tomatoes to find a place back here in the Americas. Today we grow hundreds of thousands of acres of tomatoes. Most of our tomatoes are cultivated and often have trouble resisting pests and diseases.
Tomato is a member of the nightshade family, which may be why early conquerors in central and south America thought it was poisonous as many nightshade plants are poisonous. My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager at Coogan Farm in Mystic Ct., devoted his interview to growing healthy, vibrant tomato plants with high yield. How? Here’s a recap of his fabulous tips.
- Soil: A soil test is a must: tomatoes need four minerals in particular: Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, and Nitrogen. We recommend Logan Labs in Ohio who offer a more comprehensive analysis.
- Seed: Choose heirloom or organic seeds. Add an innoculant to your seed bag which can help germination time.
- When planting choose the biggest, fattest seed from the lot.
- Don’t plant too early. Do transplant when seedlings are 4″ high. Any taller they may not fulfill their potential.
- Plant 60″ apart. Place four basil plants around them or another companion plant like carrots.
- Drench seedlings with compost tea before transplanting. Then, water every day.
- Microbiology is so important. Add mulch material around plants every week. They need a good dose of worm castings, seaweed. Seaweed unlocks nutrients and keeps some bugs away.
- Craig keeps three main leaders and removes suckers.
What is the tomato’s potential: try 22′ long yielding 300 lbs of fruit. That’s a wow in my book. When I visited Craig in his Giving Garden recently, he showed us his hoop house with poles high up to capture the growing vines. Can’t wait to visit in the spring and summer and watch their progress from seedling to fruit producing. The best part is that the food banks in New London reap the benefits. Healthy sustainable food is given to feed the food insecure: inspiring and motivating, I highly recommend you make the Coogan Farm and nearby nature trails a place to visit this summer.
If you go, share a pic, tell us about your experience. We’d love to hear from you.
Please share. Thanks. Enjoy. Judith
Description: Craig manages the Coogan Farm part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic CT. He’s often at the Giving Garden, turning over the compost pile, checking on seeds, working with his volunteers creating 11,000 sq feet of edibles. Dedicated and passionate about feeding hungry children, he’s a wealth of knowledge. In today’s podcast, we talk about tomatoes, those red luscious fruits that are best eaten freshly picked on a hot summer’s day.
Did you ever wonder what a single tomato’s plant potential is? Tune in for specific growing tips and how to’s for superb healthy tomato plants with high yield.
About My guest: Craig Floyd. Farm Manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT. Craig manages 11,000 sq feet as part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. He’s passionate about using his extensive farming experience creating a sustainable, healthy no-till, no-spray garden in order to give quality food to the needy. He watches children with emotional and physical handicaps change as they roam the garden. It works for adults too. I encourage everyone to put the Coogan Farm and Nature Center Trails on their to-do list this year. It’s worth it. and if you have the time, why not lend a hand? Volunteers are always welcome.
Transcript: #52 Craig Floyd #2
Dirt, soil, the very earth we stand on is capturing the heart and the mind of science.
“Scoop up a handful of soil. The dirt you hold in your palms forms the basis of the life around you, from the earthworms crawling in your garden to the raptors hundreds of feet in the air. But soil is not just a lifeless pile of earth. Symbiotic fungi living in plant roots—known as mycorrhiza—help the plants extract vital nutrients. Other microbes break down decaying plants and animals, replenishing the materials used by the plants.”
There is so much we are learning about soil, the intricate, complex and captivating root system and microbe community beneath our feet. Do you garden and have a compost pile? Have you spread out that composted material on garden beds and marveled at the transformation of various materials? While I have tossed kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into a bin it wasn’t until I met the compost kings at several master Gardener demo gardens in VA that I really began to appreciate the process. We often referred to the men who managed the compost bins as our ‘compost kings’, a title they rightly deserved. From managing the bins temperature, receiving garden materials from weeded beds, to turning them over and then doling out, they were true stewards of this precious material. We then had the pleasure of taking this soil and using it in various garden beds. Soil that’s healthy and viable has a rich smell, deep brown color, holds together fairly well. Some call it ‘black gold.’
In today’s world, we have to acknowledge that we have not been good soil stewards. We have lost over one-third of the earth’s topsoil in just 100+ years. tillage farming, mono-crop farming was born from expansion after WWII. Today, family farms are almost an endangered species.
My podcast guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, Founder of InSoil Health shares a microscopic photo of soil microbes. She brings her microscope out to farms and shows folks, in present time, what is in their soil. Are there enough microbes to indicate the soil is healthy and thriving? If not what can one do to amend that soil, cultivate and /or innoculate the soil to increase viability?
Mycorrhizal fungi act like mediators within this vast underground world. They are traders too. This tree over here wants more of this nutrient, fungi find a supplier and in exchange they receive food. They love carbs and thrive on carbs from plants.
Microbes: are also multifunctional: they help remove essential elements from rocks, keeping those minerals and more into play. They also help to break down organic matter. We know that various forms of decaying matter are rich with nutrients and the decaying process makes them bioavailable.
It is said that one teaspoon of soil contains a million life forms. Pretty incredible and yet we have so much to learn.
What can you do today to protect our soils?
- Look closely at your yard. Are there any more natural plantings you can include? Is so, make that a part of your action plan.
- For the beginner and novice gardener, consider leaving or cutting weeds down to the roots only. The root systems of these plants support and keep the mycorrhizal network alive and thriving.
- Fill in any bare spots. Make that a part of your spring cleanup. Plant an edible shrub if the spot is big enough. Use wildflowers. Add milkweed or other pollinator-friendly plants. Weeds, wildflowers need little to no attention, are drought resistant and build soil and sequester carbon.
We got an electric mower to keep the paths in our garden manageable and at the same time keep the roots intact. We keep the clippings wherever they land. One new act we added last year is now part of our routine. What are your spring plans this year? What can you do to grow more viable, healthy soil?
I appreciate all the comments. Please share. Thanks. Enjoy.
Description: Our soil is a living organism. As soil science and our understanding of the complexity contained within the soil grows, our models for growing food change and hopefully for the better. My guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, suggests that we are growing beyond just organic. Soils need to be abundantly healthy with a strong biome in order to give us nutrient-dense, health-sustaining food. Sustainability and regeneration are the operative words for soil health and long term maintenance in agriculture. Whether small backyard farming or large scale agriculture, Kim’s company is changing how we build soil one farm at a time. Join us for a timely and informative discussion.
About My Guest: Kimberley Kresevic is President and Founder of InSoil Health, a data analytics and educational consultancy based out of Northeast Ohio. With diverse experience in both healthcare and biological cultivation, Kim brings a unique systems-based approach to current food production challenges. Driven by the principle that nutrition is the foundation of human health and vitality, Kim works with growers in all walks of life and at all scales to improve food quality using natural biological techniques. By focusing on soil population data, systems improvement, and the human health value proposition, Kim helps growers invigorate the Soil Foodweb, reduce input costs, and eliminate the toxic environmental effects of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
Transcript: #50 Kim Kresevic
So many of my podcasts are concerned with growing good soils. Nettles pops up as a great plant, a must in fact for growing good soils and for adding nutrition to our spring diet. If you don’t have any nettles, can you think about dedicating an area just for them? A new addition that will contribute so much to your garden? Seeds are available too if you can’t find a neighboring gardener willing to share.
Nettles are one of my favorite spring herbs. Their reputation to “sting” usually makes many wary or loathe this plant. Yet they are a powerhouse of nutrients not only for the soil but for us too. In biodynamic farming, nettle is a major player in composting. Why?
Biodynamic farming, founded by Rudolph Steiner, encourages its farmers to use nettles in a preparation called BD504. “Stinging Nettle has enormous healing potential. Working in conjunction with Mars, (Steiner worked with the planets, moon cycles etc) BD504 plays a huge role in resolving soils with an imbalance of iron, magnesium, and sulfur. Excess iron can cause many problems and often presents itself in the form of very tight soil with hardpan or crust. This tightness locks in the iron and other trace minerals, which in turn exacerbates the problem. BD504 preparation loosens the soil texture allowing the nutrients to release, disperse and be absorbed by plants.”
This plant also contains formic acid, phosphorus, and a trace of iron. The square and downy stems are covered with tiny sharp spikes that release an acrid fluid when touched much like a bee sting. Interestingly the juice of the crushed nettle leaves can be rubbed on the sting for relief. Each of these spikes or spines is composed of small cells that contain this fluid. Once dried or cooked the sting is neutralized. However once discovered and tried it makes for a nutritious pot herb or tea.
Name: Stinging Nettles: Urtica dioca
Parts Used: the whole plant
Where Found: Nettles are found in most temperate regions and seem to follow man’s migrations. Nettles can indicate a soil rich in Nitrogen.
Young Shoots: Nettles are best gathered in the early spring when they are less than one foot tall. Later in the season they get gritty and accumulate crystals, cystoliths that make them unpalatable to eat. I gather for two reasons, one to cook and eat that day, or two, to make a pot of tea with the fresh herb or two, and then dry the rest for later use including winter.
Stems: Nettles have been valued for its fiber. While in herb school we separated the fibers found using the cut and dried stems gathered late in the summer. We then wove our own cordage. This fiber was also used in clothing, sailcloth and sacking material.
Compost tea: after I gather young nettles for kitchen use, pot herb and tea making, I gather some and place in 5-gallon bucket. I cover about 3/4 full with water. I stir it frequently for about 3 weeks. At the end of three weeks, I add molasses, about a tablespoon to 1/4 cup and let it ferment a bit. When done I dilute the tea 1:10 with water. Then I give each plant a cupful. You can also dilute the tea 1:20, 1 part tea to 20 parts water and use as a foliar spray which can deter bugs and even fungi, such as powdery mildew.
At the end of the season, plants are cut back to the ground and added to the compost pile.
Recipe for nettles as a potherb and/or tea:
- Gather tender aerial parts in spring
- Wash and chop, wear gloves as they will sting
- Place in a pot, about 1 handful and cover with water. Bring ot a boil and simmer a couple of minutes.
- Drink the tea water and add the greens to rice, veggies, pasta dishes.
My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT celebrates all plants including nettles. Bright green parts poke up at the beginning of spring offering nourishment both for us and our soils, a treat after winter’s greys and browns. Nettles has been a part of my garden. I wouldn’t be without them. I encourage you to appreciate this little stinging plant more for it offers much. The sting reminds us to quiet down and approach them with respect.
Enjoy perusing the seed catalogs and consider nettles.