Organic Gardening

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This page is constantly under construction.

I am an avid organic gardener.   I use no synthetic fertilizer, manure  or, pesticides.    I have been building my garden soil for 30 years after taking the plot over from my father who did use fertilizers and pesticides but also composted very heavily.

My current compost pile is about 50 by 50 feet by 4 foot high - that's the part that is ready to be added to the garden and flower beds.   More is composting.   Pretty big huh?    I live on a farm in the city.   Tree trimmers are anxious to dump wood chips on my farm.   I know wood chips are not the best compost source and with no added nitrogen they do compost quiet slowly.   I am in no hurry!   So it takes 5 years!    I do add wood ash from my fireplace to my composting chips.

I have a small John Deer (855) tractor that is my best buddy here on the farm.   Sure makes adding almost a ton of compost to my tomato row each year near effortless.   The 855 has a 5 foot tiller and a 5 foot bucket.    I haul and dump the compost in a long (50 foot) row, then till it in, lay down a soaker hose, cover that with a 4 foot spun bonded fabric row cover (3 foot when I can't find the 4 foot rolls) and set the plants through that (Click here for photos - soon to be added).    I place the rows 7 foot apart.   I do the same for the second row (maybe peppers, squash, cukes, or whatever)    Then I fill the space between the rows (middles - to us Alabama farmers) with last fall's leaves and on occasion partially composted wood chips.   Then I drive "T-post", put support cages (home made) around the plants while they are small.   The support cages are made from 3 foot wrap wire cattle fencing (commonly called "hog wire" because the size of the openings vary  - smaller at the bottom than at the top.    The intent of the smaller wire openings was to keep small pigs from going through the fence).    Plants like tomatoes grow pretty tall so as they approach the top of the first 3 foot basket (support cage) I add a second basket.    This prevents the tomato vines from breaking when they overgrow the 3 foot baskets.    I think that it extends the harvest season.

In the spring of 2010, I tried the red plastic row cover that many seed suppliers recommend for enhancing tomato and other veggie production.    For me it did not work.    The red row cover is a thin plastic (too thin).    I used the 4 foot wide by 100 foot long, which I cut into 2 fifty foot strips.    It comes folded into a pretty small package.    Since it is not in a roll, it is difficult to "un-fold" and spread.    If there is any wind, you are in trouble.   Any debris in the garden will "poke" holes in it.   It would be much more usable if the supplier would furnish a small roll of red plastic tape for patching holes.  

Once I got it spread and anchored, planting went OK, I use the "scissor" method for cutting planting holes (As opposed to a propane torch which is most undesirable with a soaker hose under the cover) and all went well however, I have fewer tomato per vine this year than I have ever had.    I have what looks like Verticillium wilt pretty bad this spring which I have not had before.     This has been a fairly wet spring so water does stand on top of the red row cover for a while after each rain.    I do have to run the soaker hose in spite of the rain as expected.    With the spun bonded fabric, the rain penetrates the fabric so that the humidity is not as high on the lower plant leaves.   

All this having been said, I made the mistake of planting all of my tomatoes over the red plastic so all of my problems could be related to the season and not the row cover.    However this will be my last year to use the red row cover.   I also have squash, pepper, and egg plant over red plastic.    I do have a second row of squash and pepper over spun bonded fabric and they are doing much better than the plants over red plastic.    But, here again they are not the same variety and the zucchini is a variety from Parks Seeds that I have never grown before so there is another variable to take into account.

I am not bad mounting Red Row cover, I am simply saying that it does not work for me and I will go back to the cheaper spun bonded fabric available locally from home improvement stores.

Once this process is completed, rain or shine, I stroll out and pick tomatoes or whatever with no mud to contend with, I do no cultivation or weeding.   It does take a little longer up front at planting time but once finished nothing is left to do but harvest until the following spring when I tear it all down and start over. 

Yes I do leave the tomato cages (and all other vertical supports) in the garden all winter, except where I plant fall crops.   Come spring, I don't have to rely on my memory to decide where to plant what for proper crop rotation.

I am  a Master Gardener and do volunteer work (or did - I have been pretty inactive of late) at the Huntsville Botanical Garden's Demonstration Vegetable Garden.   The below picture is me on the John Deer 855 tractor tilling for the spring Demonstration Vegetable garden.   I also use the bucket there at the garden to spread leaves and turn the concrete block compost pile at the DVG.

Don't you think  it interesting the things we do for fun after retiring that we would likely never have taken a job doing! Well maybe we would if the pay was the same!

I am also a beekeeper so my cucurbits are never misshaped.   Bumble bees are actually better pollinators on an individual basis but, a large nest of bumble bees might typically be a few hundreds while an average size beehive at peak production should have around 60,000 or more.    By sheer number the honeybees are by far the best all around pollinators.   The members of the cucurbit family are totally dependant on insect pollination for their survival.   Most have a male and female flower, most are in bloom one day.   Since they have so many seeds and each seed needs a pollen grain in order to mature it takes up to 20 bee visits per female flower to produce a perfect fruit.   I have some pictures below from my "pollination" program that I do for local organizations that show the effective inadequate pollination.    Nature provides the flesh on most fruits and veggies to protect the seeds as they develop and to act as delivery mechanism for the mature seeds.    By that I mean, you eat the fruit and toss out the core with seeds.    If the seeds do not get pollinated, nature has no good reason to produce fruit.    That being the case the fruit is quiet malshaped as is shown in the included slide.

One good trick to try when talking to a group about pollination is to stop by the fruit stand as you go to your lecture and pick up an apple or two that are "whopsided" (a southern term for misshapen).   Cut it in half mid way between the stem and blossom end.   In all probability, the side where the fruit is under developed, the seed will be undeveloped.    It has also been observed that the fruit has a better taste if properly pollinated.   My guess is that is nature's way of getting the best seeds distributed.    I have used the below sidle for some time so the price for apple may be a bit off but the point is to demonstrate the value of pollination to fruit and veggie growers.

Happy Gardening.

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Last updated 6/28/10 brf