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Showing posts from 2017

Man in Overalls - Geeking on Good Soil

"I just don't have a green thumb! I kill everything I plant!" Or, so folks say. Having grown up in the Deep South with a heavy cinematic helping of Fried Green Tomatoes, every time I hear such woes, I can't help but think, "The secret's in the [soil]."

Picking up on my "#GrowYourGroceries - The Easy Way" series, second to sunlight, the next most important thing for ensuring a productive food garden is great soil. (I outlined where I was headed with this series in my post, The Big Picture.)

- - - I remember taking a trip to Indiana when I was a kid, 11 or 12 years old. By this point, I had already been gardening every spring for a few years. Due to my wonderment, we stopped on the side of the highway to inspect a field of Indiana corn. The stalks were a solid 10-12 feet high, maybe taller! Each stalk had 2 or 3 ears of corn. But the thing that really hit me was the soil itself. It was jet black! Having been trying to build soil in my childhood gar…

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 - Today is 2 Years in Jacksonville

Today marks two years since my wife, Mary Elizabeth and I rooted ourselves in Jacksonville, FL the city of her birth, the city of my father's childhood. We planted here by way of a 16-month stint traveling the western world to learn language, culture, and community-based food systems. Though I'm still the new guy on the block, I've been welcomed into Jacksonville by an ever swelling network of folks working on issues of food: farmers, gardeners and permaculturalists; chefs and hunger advocates; writers and food desert activists; composters and herbalists; health professionals and neighbors - not to mention a growing base of customers to whom I owe my livelihood (along with my lovely wife-- as business picks up).

This city is teeming with amazing people doing great work! For those who know me well, I might even say there's a movement beneath the surface, a great many seeds planted, sprouting, and looking to grow and interconnect. Rather than my typical story, I'd l…

Man in Overalls - Fall: The Best Time to Garden

Here in the Deep South, September through the end of October is the time to plant your fall food garden. When most folks think garden, they think spring: tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, peppers, etc. While I do love tomatoes, the fall-- here in Jacksonville-- is the most pleasant and bountiful season to grow! In the fall you can grow salad greens like lettuce, arugula, spinach; cooking greens like collards, kale, mustards; root crops (other than potatoes) like turnips, carrots, radishes, beets; the garlic/onion family of crops; and many herbs (other than basil) such as parsley and cilantro, which actually do better in the fall than spring.
But let me back up. Beyond the greater range of fall options, why do I love growing food in the fall? It's simple really: less bugs, less heat, less work, more production, all the while looking gorgeous!

Heat and bugs go together. As the temperature goes down, so do the number of bugs trying to eat up your garden.  And, as the heat dr…

Man in Overalls- #GrowInYourFrontYard #GrowYourGroceries

I grow my groceries in my front yard.

I've been growing in front yards since I was eight years old.

It started that way simply because that's where the best sunlight was, right out front.

Let me ask, if you're honest, where's your best sunlight?

For, I'd say, 90% of Americans with yards, their best sunlight is in the front yard.

"Yeah, but..." I hear a lot of people say, "...if I planted it out there, people would take my tomatoes!" Like their neighborhood is especially prone to vegetable thieves. Like, maybe there is a vegetable-eating gang of young people that roams their streets, who they're afraid to talk about. (Which, if you do have a vegetable-eating gang in your neighborhood, please tell me about it because I definitely want to meet these kids!)

Anyway, as I was going to say: if you're afraid to grow in your front yard where you've got good sun, and you instead choose a protected (albeit shady) spot, you won't grow much…

Man in Overalls - Back to Basics: What You Need to Know to Grow, The Big Picture

After making sure you've got adequate sunlight, the next two things necessary for food gardening success -- as any kindergartner can tell you-- are good soil and, you guessed it, water. These are your food growing basics: sunlight, soil, and water.

However, before I jump into talking about soil, which I'll do in my next post, let me take a step back. You see, I've realized that I could draft a book by writing it a blog-post at a time. Originally I had conceived this "What You Need To Know To Grow" series as several blog posts about sunlight, soil, and water-- with "sequels" about how to plant, deal with pests, what/when to harvest. Not more than 5-6 posts in total.

But then I thought: rather than stop there, what if I expanded beyond the basics to share my own "bigger picture" perspective that helps ensure my food gardening projects are bountiful & successful in a holistic sense?  ...my secret food gardening recipe so to speak.  And, …

Man in Overalls - Cafe/Market/Farms: A Growing Dream

It's time I let you in on a dream of mine. It's not fully formed, but neither can it still be understood merely as ingredients in the figurative kitchen cupboard. I think of it as a loaf of bread, not yet baked but certainly mixed and rising. In looking back at my notes, it's a dream I've been workshopping and mulling over for more than two years, a dream born out personal experience and travel, books and conversations. It's a dream shared in parts and pieces (and separately conceived of) by a growing number of people. And, though I am not certain of the path to get there, I'll be walking the road (and building it where necessary) with others bound for the same vision.

Here's a rough sketch to whet your appetite:

My take on this shared dream draws from a mix of personal sources:
2010, I met City Farm Boy in Vancouver. He was growing veggies for 50 families on 8000 square feet (i.e., 1/5th acre). All his customers lived within 1/2mile of his house; most walk…

Man in Overalls - Back to Basics: What You Need to Know to Grow, Part 1

Sunlight, y'all. You need sunlight to #GrowYourGroceries. 

Sunlight, like this:
This, on the other hand, is not a "nice spot" for your food garden:
Yes, I jest, but only because I've encountered, truly, countless people for whom either hope springs eternal or who, honestly, struggle to understand the connection between food garden productivity and sunlight. Namely, food crops (with, noted, a few exceptions) do not yield without at least 4-5 hours of direct sunlight.
Let me give you the scenario. It's the same story every time. It happened years ago when I launched my food gardening business, and it happened, literally, last week. I show up for a food garden consultation or dream session to take a look, offer edible ideas, and answer questions. Or, then again, maybe I'm there to install a raised bed or simply to deliver a load of my Magic Mix. I knock on the door, and I'm warmly welcomed. Then, promptly, either through the house or around the outside via a si…

Man in Overalls - Back to Basics: 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.

On the topic of freezes, a few years back (2010 I believe), I was up late organizing a kids food gardening workshop when I suddenly remembered it was supposed to freeze that night. Being 11pm or mi…