Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Man in Overalls Grows 390lbs of Food in Small Garden

For Immediate Release
Monday, January 23, 2012
Nathan Ballentine

Man in Overalls Grows 150lbs of Food in Small Winter Garden
The yield was harvested in only three months during the height of winter.

(Update: Upon moving away just 9 months after we installed and planted our 80-square-foot, front-yard food garden, my wife and I had harvested (and meticulously recorded) 390lbs of fruit, veggies, and herbs, an estimated produce value of over $1600.)

How much money has your front yard grown this winter? Gardeners in one Frenchtown household harvested over 150 pounds of food--a $600 value--in the past three months. In three raised beds with a total area of 80 square feet--the size of a very small bedroom--Nathan Ballentine, aka the Man in Overalls and Mary Elizabeth Grant-Dooley grew broccoli, collards, cabbage, carrots, herbs, and a host of other plants to eat, sell, and donate.
"It's way easier to grow food than folks tend to think," explains Nathan, who has been gardening in Tallahassee since he was eight years old. "There's this idea that you have to have several acres and toil for hours in order to grow food for dinner. People also always think the only time to grow food is springtime. None of that is true." People can grow food anywhere there's at least four hours of direct sunlight; a garden can be a single container with one tomato plant, a compost-filled raised bed, or a large plot of land divided into rows. A garden the size of the one in Ballentine's front yard only required about 15 minutes a week of active gardening--watering, weeding, and harvesting--once the initial planting had been done.
For $30 spent on plants and seeds, they grew far more than enough vegetables to feed themselves through the winter. Interested to see just how much their small garden could produce, the pair systematically weighed and recorded everything they harvested. The final breakdown included 4 pounds of broccoli, 18 pounds of cabbage, 10 pounds of root vegetables (turnips, carrots, and beets), 27 pounds of salad greens, and 90 pounds of cooking greens (collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and kale).  They ate 75lbs, gave away 60lbs, sold 10lbs, and only about 5lbs were stolen. At Tallahassee prices for local, organic produce, this is approximately $600 worth of fresh, healthy food.
The spring planting season--the best time to grow tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and many other favorites--is right around the corner. Nathan Ballentine is known around town as The Man in Overalls, and is the founder of Tallahassee Food Gardens, a business that builds and plants raised-bed food gardens for people hoping to grow their own vegetables. He maintains a blog with gardening resources and stories from Tallahassee's food movement; it can be found at
(written by Lindsay Popper)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking Towards Spring - Topdressing

Spring is around the corner.  It'll be time to plant potatoes in February.  Most of the charismatic vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, green beans, squash) go in, in mid March to Mid April.  Come May, it'll be time for okra, sweet potatoes and the like. (Planting Guide here.  Additional resources here.)

If you're gardening in raised beds, whether your garden currently looks like this...
 Or this...

...before you get around to spring planting, you'll want to fill or topdress your beds with an extra layer of compost.  How much?  My general rule is to add as much as it takes to re-fill the frame.  Depending on how long it's been and how deep your raised beds are that measure can vary quite a lot.

But in general, how do you figure out how much compost you need?  It's a simple length x width x height = quantity.  The complexity is that you've got to get your units all on the same page for your math to work.  Multiplying inches by feet by yards will produce a number that's of no use whatsoever.

Let's work an example: We're going to top-dress a 12ft x 4ft raised bed with 2inches of compost.  First off, we need all the units (ft and in) to be the same; let's use feet because that will prove the most useful on down the road.  The 2 inches is the weirdo, the non-feet measurement; thus, our question is how many feet is 2 inches?  Well, clearly less than one foot, so we'll use that are our "Did we mess up badly?" check.  What we've got to do is convert inches to feet like this:

(because there are 12in in 1 ft): 2in x 1ft/12in 
(the inches cancel each other out): 2ft/12 = 
1/6ft or .167ft
(Does it pass our "Did we mess up?" check?  Yes, less than 1ft).

Okay, so now we can do length x width x height:
4ftx12x.167ft = 8cubic feet.

So, to top dress a 12ft x 4ft raised bed with 2 inches of compost-mix, it will take 8 cubic feet of material.  But what's that mean?
Bagged soils tend to come in 1cubic ft bags, so you'd need 8 of them. In the store, mushroom compost typically runs $5-$7/bag, so $40 to $56.  And, of course, you'd have some shopping and hauling to do.

Or, if you purchase bulk mushroom compost (from Local Sources), you'd have to purchase 1 cubic yard (i.e. 3ft x 3ft x 3 ft = 27 cubit feet), which you can pick up with a truck or have delivered. After topdressing your 12ftx4ft you'd have more than 2/3rds of your yard of compost leftover, which you could use for extra gardens or alkaline-loving shrubs. If you've got your own truck, this option is great.  If not, the delivery charge (typically about $40) + the chore of shoveling compost will likely make you think: there's got to be an easier way to top dress my raised beds.

Voila: if you don't want to deal with calculations or hauling or shoveling compost, give me a shout, and we'll take care of it.

PS- For in-ground gardens, one or two inches of compost topdressing will mostly do the trick.  Same length x width x height calculations. However, given our area's potassium-deficient soils, I'd also add 5-10pounds of green sand from Natural Matters per 100square feet.

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