Friday, February 27, 2009

Water Troughs--Not Just for Water!

Healthy Harvesters Don & Pat W. have found livestock water troughs a good solution for raised bed gardening.

If you look closely in the middle of the photo you can see their very FIRST asparagus spear coming up -- it is from the crowns they got from Jim R. who recently divided his bed and gave away his surplus.

This photo shows their onions & radishes.

Don used fencing material that was left over from when they built their chain link fence to form a climbing structure so they can plant cucumbers, sweet potatoes, etc. Recycling feels so good! We'll look for some more photos as the garden grows!

Another item of interest -- Don is the proud owner of a worm farm. Pat promises to get some pictures of it later to share with everyone. Worms are a good way to quickly compost your garden scraps (chickens and fishermen like them too!) So we'll stay tuned for a story to come on the worms! Maybe even a worm seminar!

Do you have photos and/or a garden story to share? Be sure to let us know!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Win for Sustainable Foods

Good news! (And we all know we can use some!) The President recently chose Kathleen Merrigan, director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts to serve as the Deputy USDA Secretary. Merrigan made the "sustainable dozen" list of deputy secretary candidates put forward by Iowa-based Food Democracy Now.

Over the years, she has been involved in sustainable agriculture policy in organics, conservation, food access, and small farm issues. Most impressively, while a Vermont senate staffer, she drafted the Organic Food and Production Act of 1990 and then went on to work at the USDA's agricultural marketing service (AMS), which runs the organic program.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Our Second Organic Gardening Seminar - March 7th

Healthy Harvest will sponsor its' second Organic Gardening Seminar on Saturday, March 7th from 2 PM to 4 PM at the Garden Club in Leakey. Master Gardener Jim R. will cover these topics: appropriate varieties of fruits and vegetables for our area, planting schedules, and seed starting techniques. All are welcome!

How People Heard About the Seminar

Looks like 55% of you heard about our recent Organic Gardening Seminar by word of mouth. Of course I forgot to put Healthy Harvest meetings, so that's probably some of this, but I know many new people attended because you helped spread the word. 33% saw it in the paper, and 11% found out through this blog. Thanks for voting!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Do You Swoon for Cardoon?

Congratulations to Catherine T. for winning the door prize of a cardoon plant from Sage A. at the recent meeting. If you are interested in trying this in your garden, please let me know, as I have a limited number available for sale or trade. (They have already doubled in size since you saw them!)

Cardoon is a naturally occurring variant of the same species as the Globe artichoke. With cardoon, however, the young tender leaves and undeveloped flower stalks are braised and eaten rather than the flower bud. The root can also be boiled and served cold. Reportedly, they taste like artichoke.

Many years ago I bought one at a nursery and grew it as a landscape specimen, never knowing it was edible! It requires so much room (about a 3-6 foot circle) that you will only want one in a small garden, and as a crop it probably wouldn't be profitable. But if you have some space and want a truly beautiful plant you might consider adding a cardoon to your garden and diet!

It is native to the Mediterranean, where it was domesticated in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans. It was commonly eaten throughout medieval Europe, and is still cultivated in France, Spain, and Italy.

Although many people have never heard of it, the vegetable was commonly cultivated in the gardens of colonial America. Like so many types of produce, it simply fell out of favor with the degrading of our nation's diet. You can occasionally find them at farmers' markets during the winter.

And, if you happen to be in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 19th, cardoon stems are battered and fried and traditionally served at St. Joseph's altars in a city-wide homage to Joseph, the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus, and to carpenters. This is because New Orleans was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 19th century.

The plant is currently being considered as a possible source of biodiesel. Oil is extracted from its seed and is comparable to safflower and sunflower oil. Cardoon can also be used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production. In Portugal Nisa cheese uses it as a rennet for an earthy flavor.

Cardoon requires a long (5 month) growing season but does well in dry climates. You'll want to keep an eye on it, as it is considered an invasive weed in California, Argentina, and Australia. I had no problem with it trying to escape when I grew it before.

They can be planted after the last frost into a well-manured bed. You can let them grow as is, or if you want to blanch them, about half way through their growing season you arrange the stalks by tying them upright to within a foot of the tops on a dry day and earth up around them without letting soil fall between the leaves, continuing this process as the plants grow.

The plants will be fit for use in about a month after earthing up. Do not let the plants freeze, as they are not frost-hardy! To harvest, remove the earth carefully and take up the plants by the roots, which must be cut off. The video above shows the basic way to prepare them. Closer to harvest, I'll try to find some recipes to share.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Votes are in for Interests Poll

Twenty-seven Healthy Harvesters voted on their interests in the group. Here are the results:

(92%) A local farmers market
(66%) Healthy cooking
(62%) Saving and sharing seeds
(55%) How to improve my soil
(55%) How to grow my own food
(51%) Eating organic food
(51%) How to preserve food
(48%)100 mile diet resources
(44%) Making new friends
(40%) Sharing my knowledge
(29%) A community garden
(22%) The politics of food
(18%) Growing food to sell

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Minutes of the February 14th Meeting

What a great meeting! 19 people attended, including three from Uvalde and one from Sabinal. At the beginning of the meeting, Sage A. led a brief session on blogging. Using computers at the library, several members learned about creating a Google account which enables people to make comments about blog entries. Sage explained that our group will be using the blog to communicate and that members should read the blog entries regularly to learn about group activities. Everyone is encouraged to make comments, ask questions, and generally participate in the Healthy Harvest blog!

The first agenda item was evaluating the Saturday morning seminar and planning for our second seminar. The general opinion was that it was an excellent seminar. It was agreed that our next seminar would cover appropriate varieties of fruits and veggies to grow in our area, planting schedules, including phases of the moon, and seed starting techniques. This next seminar will be on Saturday, March 7th.

Next on the agenda was the Farmers Market. We formed a committee to plan for the market. Committee members are Rick A., Sage A., Leah B., and Catherine T. The committee will study issues including liability insurance, pricing, and legal regulations.

Next we discussed the Community Garden. Pat and Don W. agreed to ask the Garden Club if the Community Garden could be located on their property. We agreed that site selection is very important. We don't want to invest time and money in land that later will not be available to us.

Rick A. talked about the idea of a Local Food Festival in conjunction with World Food Day on October 16th, 2009. The group agreed that the date of Saturday, October 17th would be a good one. Anyone wishing to help plan this event should contact Rick.

Our visitors from Uvalde indicated that they would like to join forces with us. They described their project of reviving a large garden in the Chalk Bluff area. A possible Healthy Harvest field trip to see the property was suggested. Leah B. also mentioned an organization called WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The focus of WWOOF is matching volunteers with farms that need workers.

Members also agreed that we should plan something for Earth Day this April. This will be put on the agenda for the March meeting. If there are any comments or additions to these minutes, please click on "Healthy Harvesters Said" below to give us your input. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Agenda Items for February 14th meeting

Healthy Harvest will meet this coming Saturday, February 14th, at 10 AM at the Bird House. Agenda items will include: 1)evaluation of our first Saturday Morning Seminar and discussion of the next seminar 2)farmers market -shall we form a committee? 3) our blog - possible training session on how to blog? 4) community garden 5) Local Food Festival - possible October 2009 date in conjunction with World Food Day. If you have any other agenda items, please comment below. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at the meeting! Rick A.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Marsha's Garden Inspired by Seminar!

Here's a success story from a Healthy Harvester:

Thank you guys for organizing this and pulling off a great morning!!!!!! And just wanted to share the exciting news from my front. Jim R. stopped over at our house after the seminar to give me a few pointers on where to start. I came home from church this morning and found my husband finishing up building my first raised bed from scrap lumber he had in the shop. After 2 years of "having an idea" we are heading in to Uvalde tomorrow or Tuesday to pick up peat moss, vermiculite, etc., and a 6 pack of broccoli...I NEVER would have "got around to it" without the encouragement of this group. Thanks again.

Marsha W.

Do you have a success story to share? Let us know! We're all in this together, community helping community!

Cover Crops and the European Scythe

I forgot to mention that during the seminar, both Jim R. and Joe M. recommended the use of cover crops for additionally adding nitrogen back into the soil. These plants are usually seeded in the late summer or fall (although sometimes early spring, depending on the plant) and allowed to grow over the winter (or a fallow season), and are then cut and tilled into the garden soil (or if you are using the Fukuoka no-till method like we are on some of our garden, it is either cut and left to lay in place, or simply planted directly into).

Since legumes are "nitrogen fixers" many of these cover crops are in the leguminaceae family, meaning they have bean or pea pod like fruit, such as hairy vetch, lab lab, Austrian winter pea, cow pea, etc. There's also clover, winter wheat, rye, and oats.

Joe believes all of us should learn to use a European scythe for cutting grass, grains, and cover crops because, unlike their American component, they are lightweight, easy to use, and easy to sharpen. Best of all, they require no gasoline!

He recommended Scythe Supply and the Marugg Company where he worked for a while in his homeland of Tennessee. Let's ask him to give us a demonstration at one of the upcoming meetings or seminars!

I've also added the Soil Foodweb Inc. link to the sidebar. Joe had mentioned the work of Dr. Ingram and her studies of the microbes in soils which is very interesting.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Seminar Attendees...

Please let us know how you found out about today's Healthy Harvest Organic Gardening Seminar by taking the brief online survey in the right sidebar column. Thanks!

Successful Organic Gardening Seminar

Twenty seven Healthy Harvesters attended today's Organic Gardening Seminar at the Garden Club in Leakey, Texas. We were excited to see such a nice group of folks interested in learning about and growing local food.

We ran out of raised bed construction handouts, however, Mi Mi H. will make copies for the Garden Club members, and Rick A. will post the information on the blog. We hope Jim R. will blog about soil fertility in case you didn't take notes.

While the presenters got ready, Sage A. reminded everyone to frequently check the new blog at for current information on Healthy Harvest. She explained that while blogs may be unfamiliar territory for many, you can learn all you need to know in about 10 minutes. Jim suggested we hold a computer session at the library soon for Sage to show us how to get the most out of the blog. Everyone agreed the blog was a helpful technology we need to learn more about.

The first speaker was Jim R., who discussed soil fertility and making compost. His show and tell included three buckets of soil in various stages of fertility. Don W. examines a sample of local "soil" to which many of us could relate: hard, compacted and not much different than rocks.

Because we live in an area with highly alkaline soil, we need to get as much natural matter back into it to help neutralize the pH, add nitrogen, retain and conserve water, and allow for air pockets which encourage root growth and microbial action.

One of the best ways to do that is to add compost. If you have soil that is as hard as the above sample, you can spread a 2 inch layer of compost and water it in and in a year--or less-- you won't recognize the ground under it. During that time the nitrogen leaches down and microbial action begins to break up the soil so that you can actually get a spading fork into it. He's all for making gardening easier!

Although you can buy organic compost at nursery centers, such as Plant Haus in Kerrville and Country Garden and Seed in Uvalde, it is easy to make at home. Jim makes his compost bins out of a circle of hog panel reinforced with chicken wire so that the contents stay inside. Rick A. uses pallets to make the sides of his.

To make compost you layer brown (wood shavings, dead leaves, twigs) with something "green" as in either green plant parts or manures that are fresh (grass clippings, green leaves, kitchen vegetable waste, manure, seed meal) with dirt, watering each layer as you go. Build many layers like this until it is about 3-4 feet high and turn it with a pitch fork every three days. This part is the not-so-easy part but he says it builds six-pack abs and keeps him out of pool halls!

He also recommends Medina Agricultural's all natural line of products for use on compost and garden soils. Medina is a local company, in Hondo, Texas (out Hwy. 90 west, the big blue buildings north of the highway), that specializes in products that increase microbial action. They have been around for decades, and actually make microbial solutions for things like the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Stuart and Elaine Franke are great folks, always helpful, encouraging, generous and with a serving, appreciative attitude. Please let them how much you like what they are doing when you go by there. You can find out more about them here.

They offer a Compost Starter, Compost Nutrients, Hasta Grow, Soil Activator, Medina Plus, and Biological Odor Control products. These products are available at most local nurseries. Sage A. uses their products in growing vegetable starts. They also have an online shop.

Next, the group moved outside and Rick A. demonstrated how he builds raised beds using old, damaged pallets. You can build them out of many different materials, but don't use rail road ties or treated lumber, as those chemicals will leach into the soil.

Many businesses such as feed stores, lumber yards, newspapers, hardware, and paint stores, etc. receive their products on wooden pallets. They reuse them until they begin to break down, and are usually willing to part with the damaged ones for little or nothing.

Rick shows a damaged pallet. He cuts these to the height, filling the gaps with boards removed from the side that will be inside the bed. Pallets come in many sizes, and he chooses two nice ones the same size to be the ends. He uses his favorite tool--a sharpshooter shovel--to dig a rectangular trench and buries the bottom 3 inches of the cut pallet for stability. Corner Simpson ties and strap ties and screws are used to hold the pallets together. He uses a 4 foot level to make sure they are level before attaching a pine board on top. This gives a nice place to sit while seeding and weeding, and gives the bed a finished look. You can see some of his raised beds under this post.

After the raised bed demonstration Joan R. drew numbers and attendees signed in on the roster under those numbers won a bottle of Medina's Hasta Grow. Many thanks to Mr. Franke and Jim for providing the product samples for today's seminar. There were many winners, and Jim said he will make sure the others get some samples soon. Here's just a few of the winners' pics.

Pat W.

Paula P.

Scott K.

MiMi H.

Oh my gosh--me!!

Trudy F.

Thanks to Jim, Rick, and all the participants for a really great seminar!!