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I love Summer

Two weeks away and I come back to...

Well, let's be honest: the first thing I noticed was the 90+ degree oven-breath that greeted me outside the airport.  Whew.  Florida in the summertime.

That's not all that greeted me upon my return from North Carolina and Philadelphia, however.  This morning I rose to wakefulness by strolling through the garden to nibble and harvest: 10+ pounds of tomatoes, a zucchini the size of my left leg, three cantaloupe-sized pumpkins, green beans, dry-soup beans, banana peppers, cayenne peppers, basil, 3-5 pounds of fresh apples, cucumbers, a spaghetti squash, a handful of blueberries and one remaining super-late strawberry.  Not a bad way to start a summer day.  (I'll get some pictures up when I relocate the camera.)

By the way, Wednesday up in Philadelphia, I visited Mill Creek Urban Farm located in West Philadelphia.  I went there with a handful of young people from my church to volunteer-- all part of a week-long summer service-trip.  Surrounded by poverty, corner-stores, unemployment, urban decay and some great neighbors, Mill Creek Urban Farm plays as a host site for school groups to learn about healthy eating, sustainable practices like cob-construction and green roofs, urban agriculture and bee keeping.  It also provides healthy, fresh food to a neighborhood (through sales and food pantry donations) that is otherwise quite the "food desert."  Mill Creek Urban Farm, adjacent Mill Creek Community Garden, and Aspen Farms Community Garden, right around the corner, are amongst the only means neighbors have to procure fresh food within several miles of row houses and closed-down industry.

Due to a church emergency, I had to return unexpectedly on a flight yesterday afternoon.  Some of the church folks remaining will work with City Harvest, another urban farming/community gardening endeavor in Philadelphia.  Super cool: it's a partnership between the Philly Horticultural Society, their prison system, a local farm and coop, Philly's major food bank and others.  Among other things City Harvest coordinates a seedling operation at the prison; afterwhich the baby plants are distributed to community gardens throughout the Philadelphia area.  Also, City Havest coordinates the distribution of community garden surplus to food cupboards throughout the city.

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Why Can I Eat Bread in France, but not the USA?

Updated 10/31/2017 as the National Organic Standards Board meets in Jacksonville, FL. This may well be the most important thing you read this year for your health. (Originally written in 2015 while I was traveling-- and eating bread-- with my wife in France.)

I've got a food riddle for you from Paris, France: Why can I eat bread over here when it makes me sick at home?

I'll share my best guess in a minute, but first, a little personal background.

Since my senior year of high school, I've not been able to eat much bread at all. For five years, I was severely hypoglycemic, and everything I ate had to have more protein than carbohydrates. That meant, in effect, that I spent my years of college beer-less and eating lots of salad with meat on top. I ate tons of vegetables, very little fruit, basically no carbohydrates to speak of, meat, nuts, eggs, and cheese. If I accidentally ate, say, meat loaf that was, unbeknownst to me, made with bread in it, I'd spend the next 2-3 da…

Man in Overalls - It's Like Washing Your Dishes

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I smile and think about a mental model I've been working on: Growing your groceries is like washing your dishes.

While they're raving about how many plants they've killed, I'm thinking, "It's not your thumbs. I bet you don't have a sink. And if you do, are you using decent soap or that garbage from the dollar store? And did you mention you've never washed dishes before in your life? And you're surprised you broke a couple wine glasses with no more experience than a four-year-old?" My eyebrows furrow involuntarily belying my thoughts, "Really? That doesn't seem all that surprising to me." But, of course, not only would saying all that confuse people, it'd kill the moment, so I just smile som…

Man in Overalls - The Valley of Food & Ag Startups: Warren Wilson College

If you're interested in tech, pay attention to Silicon Valley. If you're interested in food and agriculture, Swannnoa Valley, more specifically Warren Wilson College, is the place to keep on your radar.
I'm an alum and proud of it, class of 2008. I studied community organizing, wrote a 140 page thesis about social movements as my capstone.
It's a work college, one of seven in the country. Think universal work-study, so in addition to whatever one's academic track, students are also working in the cafeteria, the library, admissions, as carpenters, lock smiths, lab techs, and-- per the agricultural legacy of Warren Wilson-- as row crop, animal, and vegetable farmers, gardeners, and edible landscapers.  Personally, I worked on the electric crew and then on the landscape crew where I led the edible landscape sub-crew in managing a 1-acre edible (Permaculture) landscape around the "Ecodorm."

Per the "triad" of Warren Wilson's educational system,…

Man In Overalls - My Compost System

Composting, they say, is an art form. But, truth be told, I'm just too lazy for all that. My own compost philosophy is, "Crap rots in the woods, doesn't it?"

But really. :)


Whenever I think of home gardening systems, I always reflect back on my grandmother. She gardened up until the week she died at 93. She planted by the signs and assured me that's why her collards were not eaten up by bugs and were able to grow for 3 years running and up to 8 or 9 feet tall. She had a little rototiller, planted straight rows, mulched by spreading leaves to keep the weeds down. She threw out a little 10-10-10 from time to time and kept the cabbage worms at bay with Sevin dust. She hoed if the weeds called for it. But mostly, she harvested. Her pots were always full and her freezer always stuffed with produce: collards, mustards, turnips, peas, tomato gravy, squash, you name it.

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Good soil will basically grow your groceries for you, but how do you build great soil? 
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So we're on the same page, I'm continuing my #GrowYourGroceries The Easy Way series by digging into the how-tos of growing great soil. These stories and techniques will likely make the most sense after reading Geeking on Good Soil, my last update. (I outlined where I was headed in The Big Picture.)


As I was saying, the easy way to build a great soil is to fill raised beds with a terrific compost-based soil mix like my Magic Mix to jump start your food garden productivity from year one. From there, seasonally, you simply top-dress each season before planting with another few inches of compost-based soil mix. This is how I manage my own food garden and those of my customers. Why? Because at the root of things, I'm a lazy food gardener, and long ago I decided to embrace it. 😎

But if you're not in th…

Man in Overalls - Summer Garden Blues & What To Do

Welcome to mid summer in the Deep South! If you're anything like me, you're actively looking for excuses to avoid going outside this time of year. The heat doesn't so much radiate down from the sun as it seems to rise from the side walk. Rain helps- for about ten minutes- and then simply adds to the humidity as it vaporizes on the payment, so that it feels like you need a snorkel to make it from the house to the car, but of course, it only gets worse when you turn on the AC, and that first puff of hot air feels as though someone just wrapped your face in a plastic bag - not to mention that if you cut your grass yesterday, you're going to have to do it again... tomorrow. And, lets not even talk about how fast the weeds grow this time of year! Or the insects seem to multiply! Oh, home... :)

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Man in Overalls - What to Do When it Freezes in N FL

Here's the short version: If you've got tender warm-season plants growing (think tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and the like), water thoroughly and then throw a sheet over your warm-season veggies & tropical fruit trees (especially if they've only been in the ground 1-2 years).

I can't count how many people I've met who have a complex about "killing plants" and who think, "I don't have a green thumb." What they don't realize is that anyone (EVERYONE!) who grows their own groceries is well-versed in killing crops (myself not-withstanding). Why do you think there are entire USDA funding streams for crop loss insurance and crop-loss loans? Even the best of farmers-- much less gardeners-- inadvertently kill things from time to time.

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Man in Overalls - How to Start a School Garden: Design

Before you get to build your school garden like this,
before you can help kids get their hands dirty like this,
 or teach kids in your school garden like this,
there are a few things you've got to take care of first.

The #1 most important thing you've got to do is build your team. I say- with no exaggeration-- that human infrastructure is THE most important aspect of developing a successful school garden. But, I already wrote about building your school garden team last time. Assuming you're on track with that, a simultaneous step is to begin developing yourschool garden design.

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Purpose
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Man in Overalls - Fall: The Best Time to Garden

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(If you want a fall planting guide, sign up for my semi-monthly updates at the bottom of this post. Also, if you want to learn more from me directly, check out my facebook events for upcoming workshops and speaking engagements.)
But let me back up. Beyond the greater range of fall options, why do I love growing food in the fall? It's s…