Sunday, August 19, 2012

Soil Blocks and Eliot Coleman's "Fertile Dozen" Reading List

A couple videos by Eliot Coleman:

  • Crumbly, decomposed hardwood (Maple, Birch) from the forest floor may be able to suffice for peat.
The Reading List

These books provide background on the ideas of organic pioneers – what influenced their thinking about agriculture as a natural process, and what taught them to relate agriculture to nutrition and human well-being.

These books are listed in the order in which they might be best read. Someone wanting a short course might choose just those marked with an asterisk (*). If you read just one, read Wickenden.” 
  • Make Friends With Your Land - (*) by Leonard Wickenden (1948). When Leonard Wickenden retired from his career as a chemist he became enthusiastically involved with organic gardening. He investigates organic practices from a scientific perspective and comes out 100% in their favour. This is an amazingly perceptive and well-researched organic farming book to have been written as long ago as 1948. It is delightful reading in the bargain.
  • Soil and Sense - (*) by Michael Graham (1941). A small early volume which relates the history of the close relationship between grasses, pastures, livestock and soil fertility.
  • The Stuff Man’s Made Of – (*) by Jorian Jenks (1959). The origin, the philosophy and the scientific evidence behind organic gardening make for interesting reading. Jenks was the editor of the Journal of the Soil Association in England for many years and has an encyclopaedic grasp of the subject.
  • Farmers of Forty Centuries – (*) by F.H King (1911). One of the all time classics, this book tells the story of King’s journey through China, Korea and Japan. He details the age-old use of organic matter to maintain fertlity of the soils. Profusely illustrated with photos. A fascinating read.
  • The Soil and Health – by Sir Albert Howard (1947). This volume followed Howard’s seminal work, An Agricultural Testament. It is easier reading. He contends that the problems of agriculture need to be solved with biology rather than chemistry.
  • Agriculture – A New Approach – (*) by P.H. Hainsworth (1954). When I was first getting started as an organic vegetable grower, i considered this the most competent and practical of all the books I read. Hainsworth was a successful market gardener and he knew his stuff.
  • Plowman’s Folly – by Edward H. Faulkner (1945). This small volume, condemning the moldboard plow caught the general public’s attention in the late 40′s and 50′s in the same way ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson did in the 60′s and sold millions of copies.
  • The Farming Ladder – by George Henderson (1944). Henderson is one of the most competent farmers to have ever written a book and he writes in an informal story telling style. He covers everything from how to start, how to focus on quality work and quality products, and, most importantly, how to make a living doing it.
  • Compost – by Alwin Siefert (1962). An outstanding book on the hows and whys of producing and using first-class compost.
  • Nutrition and the Soil – (*) by Dr Lionel Picton (1949). This is one of the first works on the subject of soil quality and human nutrition. Originally published in England as “Thoughts on Feeding”.
  • The Soil and the Microbe – by Selan Waksman and Robert Starkey. A scientific book about what makes soil work. Micro-organisms are the key to soil fertility and Waksman was the early defender and pioneer.
  • A Mirror of England – by H.J. Massingham (1988). Edited by Edward Abelson. John Massingham (1888-1952) was a vigorous champion of rural living, small farming and quality workmanship. I have over 20 of his books and every one is a gem. This anthology is a broad scale introduction to his thinking and his delightful writing style.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Late Summer, and no gardening for a month

My Cascade Ruby-Gold corn is 8 feet tall, and full of ears. It was thigh high by the fourth of July, and has had a wonderful year. I think the rye, clover, vetch and fava incorporated in spring really paid off, as did the compost and all-purpose organic fertilizer. And I've stayed on top of both weeding and watering. There is some other corn in the neighborhood, probably sweet corn, so we will see if that effects my ears. The blue morning glories have started opening, but only a week ago. Note to self: no need to wait as long to plant them next year. They are twining happily up the corn but not overwhelming it. I had to liberate one bound-up small ear a few weeks ago, but that's it.

The Sweet Meat 'Oregon Homestead' winter squash at my vegetable garden in Seattle has four large fruits on three vines. The larger two are larger than a basketball, and must be 12-15 lbs. already. The other two are catching up. On the other hand, the same squash at my dad's house has not even really started fruiting. Maybe it will? I planted them 2-3 weeks later, direct sown vs. transplanted, and the bed is a bit shady. I put some compost and chicken poo-straw on top of the soil around the plants a month ago or so.

The two rows of Gaucho beans at my dad's house have beans on them, but they seem awefully short. The beans are yellow. I thinned one of them to four inches apart in the rows, and left the other at 2", the rate of planting. I think they had a 100% germination rate. Very satisfying.

Tomatoes at the veg garden are far too squished together. Shading each other out. Ripening very slow. They are at less the 24" on center, and that's the minimum suggested. They are hardly pruned. Eliot Coleman recommends tomatoes 30" apart in the rows, in rows 60" apart. That's a lot of space. Of course, he undersows them thickly with green manure. The tomatoes in the high tunnel at the farm, which have been aggressively pruned, trained up tethers tied to the ceiling, and spaced at about what Eliot recommends, are absolutely LADEN with fruit. Not ripening much quicker, but dripping with big, fat tomatoes dripping in heavy clusters.

Blue Lake pole beans are bearing heavily in the veg garden, all the peas have been pulled. The fall brassicas are coming along after having spent too long in their pots. The basil has been harvestable for 3-4 weeks, and I harvested enough for a pint of pesto 2 days ago. We have left for the wedding. I am in Milwaukee, not to see my gardens again for two weeks, and then not for another three weeks. I spent the morning harvesting buckthorn saplings for the poles for our chuppah, finishing Nathaniel's carved spoon (wedding present from two year's ago), reading Eliot Coleman's 'The New Organic Grower' and planning a CSA, making black beans and putting them on nachos, working on vows, and talking with my father-in-law to be. Goodbye gardens! I will miss you.