A fortuitous thing happened right about the time I decided to try being a semi-locavorian walk-aholic.
Since I am trying to eat local and walking for all my food, having a decent garden is important, as is frequenting my local Farmer’s Market. Anywho, I met some folks (Jason and Tanya Loseke) here in my town who are gen-u-wine gardeners, AND unlike me, THEY really know their plants. They have a business called The Garden Growers, which focuses on educating and promoting edible landscaping. They do everything from consultations, to design, to total installation. Yippee!! As soon as I learned this, I started kissing up to them because, as you know, my gardening is very, um . . . novice.
They really scored big with me when they brought me some lovely columbine flowers and another plant called, Borage, to attract good insects. They also brought some beet greens and turnips, which I AM NOT LYING, my kids devoured. The Garden Growers are super poorganic (meaning full of good, sustainable, organic solutions) AND very passionate about garden-education. I mean this in a totally good way, but just be prepared for them to refer to soil as a “living thing.” They got kind of this dreamy look in their eyes when they talked about compost.
Okay, so without further ado, I figured that I would just do a bit of a Q & A similar to what we did while walking through my yard. AND, I would love, love, love for you to follow up with your questions, which maybe they will answer in a future post.
Q: I have limited sun. What are the best plants for me to put in containers that I can move around to chase the sun?
A: Containers are a great way to find that patch of sun in your shady yard from season to season. With lots of sunshine and watering, we’ve had success with peppers, eggplant and cherry tomatoes. In our NC summer heat, most containers require daily watering because the soil dries out very, very quickly, which will stress the plant. If potting soil dries out, it will be likely to shed water instead of absorb it, preventing roots from drinking and further stressing the plant. Also, most summer (or fruit producing) veggies get quite big and require a lot of sun to produce the bounty you want. This means they like the biggest, (and when filled) heaviest containers.
Cooler weather crops like carrots, lettuces and other leafy greens are better suited for small spaces. Leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, beet greens, arugula, radish sprouts, and young collards can grow in the dappled shade of a tall tree canopy, and are all delicious additions into a salad. When planting your herbs and greens, think outside the box of what’s usual. We only eat thyme once in awhile but I have 3 different kinds in the garden. Most any herbs are tough, beautiful and help the garden by attracting “good bugs” so even if you don’t eat what you plant, you reap the benefits of it.
Q: What are the best veggies to grown in semi-shady areas with 4-6 hours of sun?
A: Depending on your level of shade, spring plants can be grown well into summer. To add to things mentioned already, Bush bean varieties like Royal Burgundy and Wax bean will grow in dappled shade. Experiment a little. Maybe you’re on the sun/shade edge where the heat lovers like tomatoes, peppers, okra, field peas and eggplant will give it a go. And mushrooms! We can’t forget a perennial, no maintenance, fancy, expensive food for deep shade!
Q: Should I be fertilizing? If so, with what? (PS readers: Don’t tell them you’ve ever used Miracle Grow, or the dreamy look will vanish from their eyes, straitaway.)
A: Any fertilizer is good for your garden. However, read the labels people. Too much fertilizer can do far more damage than simply burning a few leaves off a tomato. Healthy plants are very important for fighting off pests and for producing lots of ‘maters! Containers benefit from regular fertilizing every 4-6 weeks. In garden beds, fertilize once at flowering and once when fruiting accelerates. For organic garden, focus on feeding the soil with compost, mulch and other organic matter. If the soil needs a boost, we use Fish Emulsion or liquid Worm Poop. Both are mixed a tablespoon or so (read your label) at a time to your watering can. We can talk about making your own poorganic worm poop tea next time.
Q: Okay, so if it’s not poorganic to use Seven or some such other poison, how do I get rid of pests? (Other than deer, rabbits, voles, etc.)
A: In North Carolina, you’ll never get rid of them completely. The secret is to increase your observation, decrease the expectation of ‘the perfect apple’, and learn to discourage them from moving in. Five minutes daily can make a big impact. Go out in your garden to look at, enjoy, and touch your garden. Hunt to see what critters are in the area, and then snip off some diseased tomato leaves. If you wait until the squash plant is wilting even after watering, it’s too late, for the squash vine borer has gotcha. Reacting when you first see invaders is best. Know your enemy, so you know how best to fight them. Try hand picking them off or knocking them into a bucket of soapy water. You can also try this homemade chili garlic spray. There are lots of ways to deal with garden pests, but we prefer eye-witness accuracy instead of complete annihilation that may damage your plants.
Q: Okay, some of my readers read my Easy Composting advice. What actual knowledge can you add to my post? 😉
A: Listen, the fact you’re composting wins you a giant garden gold star! Compost happens! In nature, it happens on the forest floor. And regardless of what you use, a 3-bin system, a heap in the back yard or one of those store bought plastic things, you’re diverting trash from the landfill and putting it to good, free use. You know about green and brown material ratio, the right food scraps going in (no meat/dairy) and all that hoo-ha. One key thing to remember is you need lots of material for your compost bin. Leaves are the best; shredded leaves even better! I base my whole year’s composting on the leaves I can collect in the fall. And yes, I’ve been known to curb swipe them. Honestly, if you’re going to shred and bag your leaves and leave them on the curb for me…why wouldn’t I steal them! In our home, we reuse plastic coffee cans to contain kitchen scraps (no rust, no leaks, tight lids). When a few of them are full, I grab a shovel and head for the compost pile. You can dig a hole in the mound and pour in the greens. Cover it back up, turning other parts of the pile while you’re there and you’re on your way to success. When using this method, I tend to dig the holes around the parameter each time. Another method is to stockpile green materials until you are ready to deconstruct the pile then re-layer it up again with your greens and browns. Be sure to always bury food scraps to avoid flies and rodents. And most importantly, USE your compost! Add it to your garden at planting time, mid-season and again in winter when you put your garden to bed for the next season.
Q: If I determine I want to move bushes (like roses or azaleas) to make way for edible landscape, when should I do that and what SIZEABLE replacements would you recommend that won’t look terrible in winter.
A: For year round landscape interests you can’t beat blueberries. Rosemary, sage and lots of the medicinal herb group like Echinacea are great for color and structure in sunnier edible beds. There are lots of options depending on the exact need, but plan accordingly so you give everything the room it needs when full grown. It’s important to consider the layers of a garden bed with largest in the back, medium, then small down front. In island beds you begin in the center and work your way out and down thru the layering of plants.
Q: It’s easy to get overwhelmed with wanting to change EVERYTHING all at once. What are a few good starter steps toward a more edible landscape?
A: Once you have a plan (for the whole yard or just one spot) focus first on the soil! We like our native Carolina clay soil (dreamers, we know). But it takes time to improve it and release all the good nutrients and water-holding abilities it has. The very best way to feed the soil is with compost. So plan and work now for next season. If you have 3 months or more, you can let Mother Nature do the work for you. Flip the turf over, pile on the compostable ingredients, go off to enjoy your summer and plant a fall garden in August.
Be sure to plant in the right season…planting peas in April doesn’t work. We are so fortunate to have amazing weather, lots of plant choices, and a very long growing season here.
Lastly, know your bugs. There’s a battle of good and evil going on in the garden, so it’s nice to know who’s on your side. We use a sustainable approach working with nature, not against her. When you spray a pesticide (organic or not), they are often broad spectrum, killing any bug that it comes in contact with, including bees. Because prey species (bad bugs) reproduce faster and there are not bug predators (good bugs) to help keep their numbers in check, your little garden ecosystem is out of balance now. Don’t knock your garden off balance…it’s not nice.
Q: What did y’all have for lunch today?
A: We had to keep it quick today, so Jason had one of those veggie chicken patties on a roll, but he upped the ante with garlic chives and half a dozen baby arugula leaves (that reseeded on their own from last season, ultra poorganic!). Tanya had leftovers, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese and roasted root vegetables, turnips, carrots, beets, onion with balsamic and various herbs.
Q: Describe your business a little.
A: We’re just gardeners who encounter lots of people who want to garden but don’t think they have the tools to be successful. What little most of us know about gardening can be misplaced over the years, especially as generations are further and further removed from the farm. We’re not a company that delivers a magic garden leaving you to figure it out. We create gardeners; you get to keep the garden and recreate it for years to come.
Q: If other gardeners in this area want your help directly, how can they contact you?
So POORGANICS, aren’t they awesome!! Check out some of their before and after pictures below. (Photos of my implementation of this advice and the poorganic transformation to come in the fall.)
Readers, PLEASE submit your questions to The Garden Growers here OR on their Facebook page.