Saturday, February 7, 2009

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!!


  1. This was a very basic seminar. I have been composting for years and thought "I knew all this stuff". Boy was I suprised. Jim is really knowledgable and is a great teacher, as is Rick. I can't wait to put all this in practice (watch out fire ants!)