Here a chick, there a chick

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chickens, Compost, Home and Garden, Homesteading, Organic Gardening, Ron Ferrell, Urban Gardening | Posted on 20-08-2009

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by Ron Ferrell

As a farm kid, I was always fascinated with birds. Wild birds as well as domesticated birds stirred my curiosities with their beauty and amazing range of feather colors. I had geese, ducks, a variety of chickens, pea foul and pigeons, but my favorites were the peacocks, followed by chickens. Geese, pigeons and ducks were so nasty, but chickens had a terrific pay off — eggs. Peacocks ate lots of bugs and they were just beautiful.

 

As a middle-aged urban homesteader I’ve eschewed raising chickens but my neighbor Matt’s garden convinced me to reconsider my self-imposed “no chicken” rule. I call birds in a pen “predator bait,” so as a work-around Matt loaned me one of his electric chicken fences, and after much additional prodding from Matt, I decided to get a small flock of chickens for eggs, composting organic matter and soil building. My new flock of 26 Welsummer chickens, a heritage breed, have been on my property for a week now and they are maturing so quickly.

When I first released them into the electrified poultry pen, they obviously had not been out of a brooder house environment as they were not used to grass and all that open space. They just stood in a tight flock for a couple of hours before they started to venture out away from the fence corner. The chicken feed and water helped lure them away. 

I have been dumping various veggie matter over the fence, some of which the chickens eat, but the bugs drawn to the veggie pile seem to attract their attention the most. Yesterday I dumped the spent grains I collect from COOP Ale Works in Oklahoma City into the pen, and slowly the chicks began picking through the grains. This morning however, they were very actively eating the spent grains. Chickens are the ultimate composting machine!

The spent grains are high in protein with small amounts of nucleic acid as well as many trace minerals. In addition to the spent grains, I will be feeding my flock lots of vegetable matter from my kitchen and local restaurant sources. Apart from the effort of getting the spent grains and the vegetable materials to my property, they are free food sources for my chickens.

If you have any interest in keeping a chicken or two, check out chicken tractors. YouTube has several examples of chicken tractors, along with construction techniques, use and feasibility of use for city dwellers.

One of the most wonderful aspects of my chickens is they are so darned cute, playful and endlessly curious. I’ve placed lawn chairs and a cocktail table beside the chicken pen and in the cool of the evening I just sit, meditate and watch my beautiful Welsummers as they grow from chicks into beautiful chickens.

Turning sustainable ideas into reality: Jim Horne’s very determined green revolution

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Community, Farming, Nature, Organic Gardening | Posted on 10-07-2009

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by Chelsey Simpson

Access Tour Alumni Association 2007 Jim Horne and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture have long imagined agriculture with an entrepreneurial spirit and holistic ideal that transcends conventional agriculture and big industry. Their creativity and innovation introduced a quiet and growing revolution in Oklahoma, and while they’ve taken their lumps from the powers that be, they’ve doggedly continued to help family farmers keep their farms and enriched Oklahoma in ways too numerous to compile here. This past June, Fresh Greens contributor, Chelsey Simpson, interviewed Horne for an article in Oklahoma Living magazine. She graciously shares a portion of that interview here.

More than 20 years ago, Jim Horne made a decision for which he was ostracized and temporarily blacklisted by mainstream agricultural institutions across Oklahoma: he decided to put the “sustainable” in sustainable agriculture.

When Horne made the unpopular decision to change the Kerr Center’s official name to the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture  in 1985, he took the organization, and perhaps even the state, in a new direction. From their farm and office in Poteau, the center conducts research, produces educational materials, hosts field days and offers direct support to farmers, all in the pursuit of their mission “to assist in developing sustainable food and farming systems.”

On a rainy morning in early June I sat down with Jim Horne to talk about the role he and his Kerr Center teammates have played in shaping Oklahoma’s agricultural landscape.

When did your thinking start to shift toward sustainability?

The change started in the 1980s for me because there were thousands of farmers who went bankrupt in the ‘80s, and these were not bad farmers, these were good farmers who were going bankrupt. There were cracks in the system, and I could see that we had built an agriculture system around agribusiness, and the [crop] prices would not pay for the inputs we were using. It seemed to me that there had to be a better way to farm using the tools of nature instead of just using solutions that you had to buy.

My father passed away at 42 years of age from acute poisoning from using chemicals, and that probably had a bigger impact on me than I realized. KerrDSC_0298

I understand that it created quite a bit of turmoil and that members of the board even resigned because you added the word “sustainable” to the Kerr Center’s name. 

Why was it unpopular? How could you be against it? To make something endure forever—that only makes sense. But it carried a connotation that a lot of Oklahomans felt was a threat to the funding of their institutions from agribusiness if we promoted farming that involved a lot less chemicals. We were singled out as a group of weirdos and naive tree-huggers because we started the process of asking, “How do we make sense out of farming this way?”

My approach was to ask, “How do you meet the needs of this generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs? How do we keep from destroying our ecological capital?” That was a pretty foreign thought for most people.

Professionally, it was probably the hardest time in my life. I really felt ostracized for this belief, and it was a belief that I wasn’t totally sure of. I kept struggling with how to implement farming with nature. That’s when I came up with the Eight Points of Sustainability, which is all in the book [I co-wrote with Maura McDermontt.] I started breaking it down into what would make sense to a farmer.

What kind of results did you see? Did the methods you promote manage to save any farms that were in bankruptcy?

I know it managed to save a few farms, but I can’t really say how many. So many farms were so far gone by the time we started this.

We have to move to a different style and we need our universities to do research to help us move us in this direction. We have been building that concept among everyone that we don’t want to go through this [mass bankruptcy] again—we have too few farmers already. Sustainability is a necessity, not a luxury.

KerrDSC_0320 How financially viable is the kind of farming you promote?

The whole idea is to keep every drop of rain that falls on your farm, on your farm. The waste from one enterprise—pigs or cattle or chickens—is used as fertilizer in another enterprise, and you use clover to smother weeds. That’s the kind of research that we are looking at and trying to promote because it reduces what you have to buy off the farm, and farmers who are doing it, yes, they are finding profitability. Yields are probably not quite as high, but we have less invested.

How can the general public encourage sustainable agriculture?

I think consumers are the farmers’ best friends.

We have this giant agricultural industrial system that is a worldwide competition, and only large, large farmers can really compete in that system. For a small farmer to compete in a global system is a disaster. What we can do is compete in a local system, and I think that is what is overlooked.

We have lost so many rural communities, particularly in western Oklahoma. What people are realizing now—and I think it is why sustainability is becoming more popular—is that having a neighbor is valuable.

A common argument against these methods is that if everyone farmed this way we couldn’t feed the masses. I’m curious what your response is when you hear that.

The typical response is that if we farmed sustainably, half the world would starve. My answer is that right now we produce enough calories in the world that every person could have enough to eat—it is all about political strife and corruption. My take is—and I have thought a lot about this—is it our responsibility to feed the world, or is it the responsibility of each community to feed their own? I think that is really what we need to think about. KerrDSC_0355

How do we equip people, whether they are in China or Oklahoma, to create their own local food system and how do we minimize the importation of stuff?

What makes you believe so deeply in sustainability and local food? 

I think the point that it comes alive to me is realizing how interconnected we are as humans and in nature. I think that God created everything with a purpose, and when we decide that we don’t need this or that we have gone awry.

We can’t impair our systems just so
we can live affluently today. It is better to work with those systems, and that’s what sustainability is all about.

A longer version of this article is available online.

Soil Are Us; Us Are Soil

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Bob Waldrop, Compost, Home and Garden, Organic Gardening, Tips | Posted on 13-02-2009

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by Robert Waldrop

Soil is fundamental to agriculture and gardening and thus is fundamental to human life. Fertile topsoil is a precious resource, and there is less and less of it all the time. Half of Oklahoma’s top soil is now somewhere at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know if it is helping or hurting things there, but the loss of topsoil here at home is critical. If we want to step forward into a more sustainable future, we need to take care of our soil. That way the soil can take care of us.  

The first rule is do no harm. No noxious chemicals on your soil or plants–no herbicides, pesticides, or  chemical fertilizers. Yes, its true. Even Miracle Gro will damage your soil over the long term. It is not nice to poison Mother Nature. We shall indeed reap what we have sown, and if we continually sow poison, that is what we will harvest. Do No Harm!

Next, cultivate an attitude of loving stewardship towards whatever land you are responsible for, whether that be a 1/7 of an acre city lot or a thousand acre farm. The ground you walk on is a vital resource. To let it just wash down the river is like flushing money down the toilet. (We do that too, but that’s another column for a later day.)

If you have any bare soil, mulch it. Bare soil is eroding soil. Cover it with a nice layer of grass clippings, shredded leaves, chipped tree limbs, whatever you happen to have handy–several inches at least. Mulch decomposes, so its like a compost pile. The floor of a forest is always covered in mulch. That’s one way that nutrients are cycled, but please don’t buy bags of “cypress mulch” as that is made by chopping down mature cypress trees and shredding them. 

Nutrient accumulator plants gather up nutrients from soil and make them available to other plants. Areas with perennial food producing plants like fruit trees and berry bushes will benefit from the presence of nutrient accumulator plants like comfrey, dandelion, fennel, lambs quarters, thistles, vetch, plantain, alfalfa, burdock, caraway, dock, lemon balm, sorrel, or pigweed. Yes, many people consider some of these weeds, but one person’s weed is another person’s valuable nutrient accumulator! One time someone showed up and wanted to help with my garden. The first thing they did was reach down to pluck up a dandelion.  I am afraid I actually screeched, “Don’t pick the dandelions!” They were very confused until I explained the importance and many uses of "weeds."

Nitrogen fixing plants take nitrogen from the air and with the assistance of beneficial bacteria in the soil, make it available to other plants. These include all the legumes (peas, beans), all the clovers and vetches, alfalfa, and some trees (black locust, autumn olive, Kentucky coffee tree, mimosa, mesquite, wisteria). 

Do not till. Once you start to plow or till, you open the soil to erosion. I have never tilled my annual garden space. I keep it constantly covered with mulch, so there is a steady compost process going on all the time, just like the floor of a forest. I never walk on the garden beds, that way the soil doesn’t get compacted. When I set out plants, I simply make a little hole in the mulch, scoop enough dirt out to accommodate the plant, and put it back in place. Planting seeds, I follow the same procedure–make a little hole in the soil and plant the seed. The only seeds that I have to actually remove the mulch for are carrots, which I typically mix with sand and broadcast. After they sprout, and I thin them a bit, mulch goes back on the soil. Nature doesn’t till the soil, but even so plants manage to take root and grow. Tilling not only exposes the soil to erosion, it hurts earthworms and other micro flora and micro fauna in the soil, mixes up soil layers, buries organic matter in the soil, and is a lot of hard work. So let’s invest our hard work in other areas where it is needed and skip the tilling this year in favor of deep mulch. Let the earthworms do the work! 

Happy soil grows happy plants, and that leads to happy gardeners. So let’s all take better care of our soil this year, so that the soil can continue to care for us and our children and our children’s children for generations to come.

Winter Garden Dreaming

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Home and Garden, Homesteading, Jennifer Gooden, Organic Gardening, Tips, Urban Gardening | Posted on 05-12-2008

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by Jennifer Gooden

With last week’s freeze, I finally gave up on extending the growing season for my tomatoes, green beans, and other warm weather plants, at last giving in to winter. I still have a mix of cold-hardy greens out there, my chard, radicchio, mustard, and kale, but they take care of themselves. And so my 2008 gardening season is over. (Sniff, sniff.)

One thing I love about winter, though, is the time to plan next year’s garden. In my winter eyes, blinded by the cold and darkness, next season’s garden is always lush and abundant. There is endless variety—far more than my five raised beds could dream of supporting—and a complete absence of pesky mosquitoes, munching caterpillars, and digging squirrels.

It may not be realistic, but it gets me through the coldest months.

This winter, I have two gardening projects in mind.  First, I am going to put together a calendar for next spring. I plan to find a calendar to hang in my garage, right next to my garden tools. There’s a reason for this calendar. Despite my fondness for winter garden dreaming, somehow February and early March escape me, and I rarely get my seeds started as early as I could. This year will be different. Organization to the rescue!

The most significant date in spring garden planning is the average date of last frost in spring. I found that the estimates from different sites varied by as much as a month. I settled it by looking up the NOAA historical records for our area. The actual historical dates of last frost did vary, by a lot. In the past 40 years, the date has swung from March 9 to April 15; going back a hundred years, you can add an extra month on either side of those dates. Thankfully, a linear average of the last spring freeze is clear: March 30.

March 30 it is.

Given the importance of that date to all spring planting, the rest of the calendar falls right into place. My early spring calendar, February through April, is below. Note that my plants have been selected for a small urban lot, so you’ll find an absence of large plants like corn and okra.

•    February 15: plant onion sets
•    February 22: sow peas and spinach; start leaf lettuce indoors
•    March 1: sow radishes and turnips
•    March 8: sow beets; plant potatoes; start peppers and tomatoes indoors
•    March 15: transplant leaf lettuce seedlings outside
•    March 22: sow carrots and chard
•    March 30: average date of last spring frost
•    April 12: sow green beans
•    April 19: start cucumbers, summer squash, and melons indoors
•    April 26: transplant peppers and tomatoes outside

My second garden project is to collect more reference books. I currently rely on information gleaned from the internet, seed catalogs, and Square Foot Gardening, but I would like to know more about season extension, food preservation, perennial vegetables, fruits, pest management…you name it. There is much I don’t know.

This is where I need help. If you have a great gardening reference book, one you couldn’t live without, please respond to this post and let us at Fresh Greens know.

Thanks, and happy winter garden dreaming!

Microbial Life in the Garden

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Farming, Home and Garden, Homesteading, Organic Gardening, Ron Ferrell, Science, Tips | Posted on 21-11-2008

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by Ron Ferrell

I’m always on the search for more information about how to grow food, and lately I’ve been exploring YouTube for related topics. Two processes that I’ve discovered on YouTube involve the introduction of effective microbes into the composting and gardening process. I’ve felt for a while that something was missing in my compost and gardening process, and after some research I think EM (effective microbes) may be the key to a great garden. I would encourage you to do your own research, but since I talk to lots of people about gardening and effective microbes have never surfaced as a topic, this may be new to you as well.

BOKASHI:  Japanese for fermented organic matter. There are a few good videos on YouTube, and if you google this topic, there are many instructive articles. Basically the Japanese figured out how to kill the smell of your compost bucket with the introduction of effective microbes. It’s a simple recipe once you get the correct ingredients, and this greatly enhances your garden, via the compost pile.

I made my first batch of Bokashi last evening. It has to age for 2 weeks before use, but if what I’m reading holds true, then I plan to introduce it into my composting toilet to aid decomposition, reduce smell of any waste byproduct, and add healthy organisms into my garden. 

COMPOST TEA:  This almost speaks for itself, but the YouTube videos also include the effective microbes and Arctic or Alaskan humus to introduce a wide array of microbial life into your garden as a foliar spray and or fertilizer. There are kits you can buy to do the aeration of water and use their brand of effective microbes, but you can easily shop for the components elsewhere. 

The YouTube videos show incredible vegetable gardens, almost too good to be true, but once again, I researched as best I could on Google to find related or corresponding articles.  Very exciting. I want to hear about your discoveries.

In regard to harmful additives, I’m concerned, because I haul in tons of horse manure (stall mix as I call it), about the horse wormer and its effect on earthworms and red wiggler worms. I don’t have an answer, yet, but considering I’ve hauled in many truck loads of stall mix over the past year, it’s not as if I can back up now. So I’ve been studying the information found on Google in regard to this. There are several reports and studies, and I will let you come to your own decision as to its use. I think all is not lost for me, as the reports for its continued use are cautiously optimistic.  

The wormer topic also holds true for sheep, cattle, and most all livestock, so inform yourself and beware of what you’re putting into your compost pile. I started hauling in all this free manure, and didn’t do my research on the front end. I’m hopeful it’s not too late. Since I have plans to introduce microbes into my garden/composting process, I’m hopeful that these effective microbes will also help to rehabilitate any horse wormer induced destruction. I now plan to inoculate every truck load of manure with approximately 5 gallons of EM compost tea, hot compost for at least a year before introducing into the garden, aerate the pile well, expose the pile to as much sunshine as possible and pray for healthy worms.

Next Up? The Food Crisis

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Bob Waldrop, Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Organic Gardening, Tips | Posted on 07-11-2008

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by Bob Waldrop  

First came the oil crisis, followed by the financial crisis.  Will a food crisis be next? The conventional food industry is at risk of the various credit woes plaguing the industrial economy.  Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s largest poultry producer, is on the verge of bankruptcy, but they can’t find debtor in possession financing for Chapter 11 (reorganization). They may thus be forced into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy where production stops and assets are liquidated. Large wholesale inventories could then be tied up in bankruptcy court.  The financial press  reports problems in arranging financing and payment for large international food trade shipments. I’m hearing news of shut-downs of poultry CAFOs along the east coast.  If something does happen with the food system, just like the energy and financial crises, it will happen quickly and for most people, without warning.

Now is  therefore a good time to review the seven elements of home and community food security:

(1) prepare meals from basic ingredients; (2) buy local foods; (3) grow some of your own food; (4) food storage; (5) home preservation of food; (6) eat with the season; (7) frugal supermarket shopping.

(1) Prepare meals from basic ingredients.  Many, if not most, of us are short on time.  Take-out or frozen supermarket entrees often seem like a good idea. But such “convenience” comes with a high cost – money, nutrition, and taste. My Better Times Almanac internet edition has lots of info about preparing meals from basic ingredients..

(2) Buy local foods.  If we want a more sustainable, just, and humane agricultural system, there must be a market for the products of a sustainable, just, and humane agricultural system. Purchasing local foods does several good things: you get nutritious and healthy food that tastes very good, you help grow a local food system, and you support rural families and communities.

(3) Grow some of your own food.  Gardening is less work than most people think, and is best compared to growing money in your back yard. Fall is the time to get ready for your spring garden.

(4) Food storage.  Store what you eat and eat what you store. Keep some of your household savings in food – at least 3 months, and more is better. Besides food security, “investing” in food storage makes good economic sense. Grocery prices are fluctuating rapidly—food storage can insulate you from price-mood swings at the supermarket. 

(5) Home preservation of food. Buy and grow extra vegetables, and preserve them for good eats during the winter.  Contact your county extension office for scientific information about home food preservation.

(6) Eat with the season.  Eating the same foods 365 days a year is actually a boring diet. As the seasons change, so should our menus. Summer greens are great for summer, but out-of-season greens are hauled long distances and produced with hazardous chemicals and poisons. During winter, look for innovative salads made from root crops and cool season veggies.

(7) Frugal supermarket shopping.  The local food market at present is not big enough to supply all food here, so some supermarket shopping is necessary.  Supermarkets, like casinos, are designed to separate you from your money. The more times you go to the store, the more money you will spend, so minimize shopping excursions. Always shop from a list, and beware of impulse buys.  Eat before you shop. Carry a calculator with you and do the math (price per ounce, pound, quart, gallon, etc.) to ensure you get the best package size. Often, generic and store brands are as good, and sometimes better, than brand names.  “Made in Oklahoma” brands support the local economy. The Best Choice, Always Save, and Clearly Organic label foods come from a cooperative of independent grocery stores, and that helps support a diverse local retail and wholesale food system.  In Oklahoma these labels are typically available at the locally owned stores. See my article, “Winning at the Supermarket Casino,” for more ideas.

Family and community food security doesn’t just happen. If this is new to you, develop a plan and start making incremental changes on a set schedule to increase your family’s food security.  If you have been working on a program like this for some time, keep up the good work! Remember what my grandmother Opal Cassidy used to say, “Y’all get the right eats, you hear?”

Sustained Finances

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Bob Waldrop, Community, Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Jennifer Gooden, Organic Gardening, Tips | Posted on 17-10-2008

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by Jennifer Gooden

I, like everyone else it seems, have spent more time than usual thinking about the economy over the past few weeks. As I write (Monday 10/13), the stock market is rallying after a week of freefall, and photos of i-bankers looking relieved abound on internet news sites. 

I wish I could share their optimism. Instead, I think further tough times are on the horizon, so I have turned to two sources for advice: Bob Waldrop, an admired local advocate and fellow Fresh Greens blogger, and the Survival Podcast, a resource to “help you live the life you want, if times get tough, or even if they don’t.” Since financial stability is essential to sustainability and self-sufficiency, I thought I would pass along the advice I have gleaned from these sources.

Background

Bob Waldrop, known to many interested in sustainability in Oklahoma, has become a trusted source for many in our region. We’re lucky to have him. Bob’s publications are charming in their old-fashioned wisdom, and his messages of frugality and compassion are more important than ever in our current environment. 

I found the Survival Podcast a few weeks ago and have become a fan. While I disagree with the author on some key issues (particularly climate change and politics), I have found the podcast to be a good source of information about practical planning and preparedness. Over the past two weeks, listening to the podcast has become part of my regular routine.

The Recipe

I find it reassuring that multiple sources, based on different perspectives, point to the same solutions for prosperity in times good and bad. In a nutshell, here’s the recipe for financial sustainability:

1.    Curb spending. Keep track of all expenditures for a month or two, and evaluate what can be cut without forfeiting your quality of life. 

2.    Eliminate debt.  Pay off all debt, and enjoy the freedom that comes from being in the black. The Survival Podcast lauds Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” strategy. I concur.   

3.    Keep three months of food in the house. On Bob’s advice, I have been purchasing extra flour and grain from the Oklahoma Food Coop every month, which I use to make bread.  Following Jack’s advice, I have added a variety of grains, legumes, pastas, and canned and frozen vegetables to my stored food. I eat a lot of these foods anyway, so I just buy extra when I go to the store. I find that having an abundance of food in my household makes it more fun to cook and pushes me to try new recipes. 

4.    Grow a garden. I began with the principles of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening and went my own way from there. Anticipating even greater demand for the food coop’s limited fresh veggies next year, I recently added four new garden beds; one is planted with fall greens while three are lasagna gardens, which trick worms into doing the hard work for me. 

5.    Build community. Both of my sources emphasize that it is difficult to build trust during times of crisis. The time to get to know your neighbors is now.

I would be interested to hear what strategies others are following to prepare for uncertainties in the future. If you have more “ingredients” to add to the recipe above, post a comment to let us know what is working for you.

The Other Solar Panel

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Energy, Locavore, Organic Gardening, Ron Ferrell, Tips | Posted on 06-10-2008

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by Ron Ferrell

Now that creating and harvesting sustainable energy is on many people’s minds, it seems to me that we need to rethink what solar energy is, can be, and how simply the average person can create and harvest it. The most obvious method of harvesting solar energy is the solar panel, a photovoltaic panel that converts the sun’s energy to the electricity needed to power our homes and hopefully someday our vehicles.

Most homeowners can’t afford to retrofit their home with solar panels or wind turbines in an effort to go green and generate the power to save money and the environment, so is that the end of the conversation for the vast majority of people on the planet? Perhaps, but our ultimate goal is still to find an affordable way to convert the sun’s energy into energy we can use at home. 

The electricity produced with solar and wind energy is great but expensive, and someone else far away owns it. The grid delivers energy produced by wind, coal, natural gas and fossil fuel, but we’re all on one giant extension cord and to me that spells potential disaster.

If we look at the amount of money the average person spends on fuel for the home plus the amount of money spent on food, it soon adds up to an almost insurmountable deficit for the budgets of many families. Both are expensive, but can we actually do anything to reduce these costs at home? Both the cost of food and fuel are rapidly on the rise and the common denominator for both is fuel…fossil fuel.

So what if we could figure out a way to drastically reduce the amount of money the average homeowner is spending for utility bills and food costs? We have already ruled out solar panels and wind turbines for the average homeowner’s budget. They can replace light bulbs in the home, weatherproof, insulate, and perform typical ‘green’ measures to save energy and money, but they most likely are not able to generate any of their own power without a large investment in solar or wind.

However, there is a cheap, readily available, and totally renewable solar panel that has been around for millions of years. This solar panel won’t change your utility bill, but it will drop your food bill tremendously. That solar panel is the LEAF, an edible solar panel! 

While reading Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, it dawned on me that leaves are quite simply solar panels converting sunlight into energy. FOOD ENERGY!  Food IS energy, and that is why calories are measured in BTU’s. 

Mr. Coleman refers to seeds as ‘stored energy,’ energy that can be saved, eaten or used for commerce. This energy in the form of seeds and leaves is essential for animal and human life and can be produced quite cheaply, precisely where we live, alleviating some of the burden from high food and gas prices by erasing trips to the grocery store.

So rather than stress out over what we should be doing to lessen the demand on world energy sources and find that we can’t do much without spending great sums of money, I encourage everyone to invest a tiny amount of money in packets of seeds and plant a garden. Plant a vegetable! Grow some food, reduce your food bill and your stress level over not being ‘green’ enough. Grow your own edible solar panels!

The Madfarmer Says, “Eat Your Greens!”

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Farming, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Organic Gardening, the Madfarmer, Tips | Posted on 12-09-2008

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by the Madfarmer

To reinforce the name of this blog, I felt it only appropriate to use my first blog post to encourage and/or teach you how to grow your own fresh greens.

Fall is the perfect time for anyone to grow a small or large patch of greens just about anywhere. Do you have an empty spot in your flowerbed or some extra room around existing plants? Those are both perfect places to start. You could also use an empty flowerpot and may have good luck since the lettuce seeds won't have to compete with weeds.

Choose a spot that gets lots of sunlight even if it’s not full sun. They can tolerate a little shade especially now since it’s still rather hot.

Get a packet or two (or three or twenty) of your favorite greens' seeds. Right now in my garden I have Freckles Lettuce, Lolla Rosa Lettuce, Early Mizuna Mustard Greens, Bon Vivant Lettuce, Pak Choi, and Mache. Any variety should work. Choose the ones you like to eat. You now have two options: Broadcast the seeds over the area you have chosen to plant or start seeds in cells or peat pots for transplanting in a couple of weeks. (I do both.)

If you choose to broadcast your seeds, first add some compost to the planting site and mix it into the top couple of inches of soil. Take a pinch of seeds in your fingers and spread them across the area like you are salting your food. Cover lightly with about 1/8 inch of compost, water, and you’re done.

For seed starts, I always save those little plastic six-pack cells I get from the nursery when my wife buys flowers. They can easily be used over and over to start your seeds. Fill the cells (or small pots) with a soil-less seed starting mix and drop two or three small seeds in each cell. Cover with more of the soil-less mix and water. In a few days you should see sprouts. When they are about an inch tall they are ready to be transplanted to the growing site.

In Oklahoma our inaugural frost is typically around November 1st. Since we have approximately eight weeks until then, you should easily be able to harvest your greens before the freeze. Most greens can be harvested about an inch above the soil level and will grow into more fresh greens in a few weeks. Gardeners call this cut and come again. With a little TLC you can even grow them late into the fall by covering them from the frost. It isn't the cold temperatures that kill greens as much as the frost on the leaves. If you can cover your plants with a cloche (mason jar or milk jug turned upside down over your seedling) you can grow on into the winter with no problem. You could also fashion a small cold frame but instructions for that might wait for my next post.

Viva Fresh Greens!

Feeding the Worms

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Organic Gardening, Tips, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 05-09-2008

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by Tricia Dameron

I was first exposed to worm composting during my stint working at the Hike Inn in the mountains of north Georgia. The lodge had an extensive setup to accommodate the kitchen and paper waste of about 150 guests per week. The worms feasted on all that waste, and we used the castings (poo) to fertilize our garden. On the guided facility tour, guests were enthralled with the story of the disappearing khakis—after being in the worm bin for about a month, all that remained was the zipper and button!

Vermicomposting
When I came down from the mountain, I scaled back the worm setup I learned at the Hike Inn to accommodate my city apartment. My own operation consisted of a plastic bin with holes drilled in the sides for air circulation. I educated my friends and family on what was and was not "worm friendly." For example, coffee grounds: worm friendly. Old pesto: not worm friendly (Red wiggler worms breathe through their skin and oil coats them, hindering respiration.). Of course, you can experiment on your own. Some items are deemed unfriendly not because the worms object, but because of the other critters you will attract or the smells that will ensue.

Vermicomposting provides for some "learning opportunities," like the time my worm bin was invaded by soldier flies. A friend and I spent an afternoon picking out the larvae and tossing them over the balcony, only to find out later that the flies pose no threat to worm health. The bin was stored outside, so it made no matter when the flies started stumbling out of the bin to take flight. Then, in the winter of 2006, my worms all decided to escape and would dry up and die in their dash for freedom. I felt like such a bad mom. (My maternal shortfalls aren’t limited to worms. Until recently, I raised an avocado tree that sprouted from a pit I tossed in the worm bin. It died, too… My green thumb is having a prolonged germination.) 


 
Worm flow
If you manage to keep your worms alive over winter,
there’s a place to take the waste when the heap is frozen. Besides the practical purposes, a worm bin is an educational tool showing how to turn “waste” into green energy for the garden. Peeking around inside is sure to amaze little kids and adults, alike!

If you are interested in worm composting, let me know (oklavore@gmail.com) and I’ll email you a vermicompost primer I created in grad school. If you are interested in more in-depth instructions, check out Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, the late Worm Woman.

Some helpful links:

The Worm Woman

Worm Solutions: local worm farm