Living in Harmony with Nature and teaching others to garden the natural (organic) way, with emphasis on practices that lead to NUTRIENT DENSE produce!

Harmony Gardens

Harmony Gardens
Bey Home designed by Stitt Energy Systems, Inc. 2002

Welcome To Our Site

Our intent is simple: to provide useful information on gardening, health and sustainability issues. We will include class and meeting announcements, gardening information, and book reviews. The articles that Calvin writes for Garden Thyme, the Master Gardener Newsletter will be included. We will try to make this site easy to use and relevant.

About Me

My photo
Fayetteville, Arkansas, United States
Harmony Gardens is the home of Calvin and Doris Bey. As the name implies our goal is to live in harmony with the Laws of Nature. We are concerned about the environment, energy efficiency, organic gardening, alternative health, and sustainability issues. We love our Stitt Energy Systems Inc. energy efficient home, which received a First Place NAHB National Award for 2003. Calvin is a retired USDA Forest Service scientist. Each year he teaches classes in Organic Gardening in February and March and again in September. Doris is a retired RN. Calvin and Doris have put their energy efficient house up for sale (by owner). See first post for description, pictures, and house design.

December 14, 2008

Growing Your Own Vegetables

Welcome New Master Gardeners! I hope that for many of you, the Master Gardening Course is the beginning of an adventure that lasts for the rest of your lives. Perhaps something in the course will be the spark that gets you into some new gardening areas that you have not previously considered. With the current economic and environmental situation in this country and the world, many gardeners are moving to a more natural or organic approach to grow their own vegetables. Many of the steps and processes in organics are parallel to the conventional systems. Simply avoid using chemical pesticides, highly processed fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and raw manures, and you are on the way to the organic approach. There is no reason to be intimidated by the natural system for growing any crop. The model in Nature has been here a long time and it continues to serve us well.

What are the components in organic gardening? In the 10-hour Organic Gardening Course that I teach, I break the natural system into four interrelated components – compost, soil biology, soil minerals, and energy. By understanding the basics of these components, you begin to see how the whole system works. When you employ the holistic approach, the gardening processes become clear, and gardening becomes more enjoyable.

It is also exciting to see how the health of the soil affects the health of the plants, as well as the produce and the consumer. In my garden, and in my teaching, I work to understand how vegetables can be grown so that they are dense in nutrients (healthy). If you follow my recommended protocol, in a few short years, you will see that the soil has improved. That means improved tilth, fewer weeds, fewer insect and disease problems, and increased production with better taste and longer shelf life.

How big should I make the garden? Many factors will influence that decision. If you are just getting started, keep it small but do it right. A few hundred square feet will give you a lot of vegetables. I keep rough production figures,
and you can expect 1-4 pounds or more per square foot, depending on the crop. Sometimes the decision of size is just a matter of how much time you have to spend in the garden. My vegetable garden is over 2,000 square feet. In addition I have many perennials, i.e., blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, asparagus, rhubarb, figs, apples, peaches, plums, pears, and 10 soft shell pecans.

How much work is involved? I have been gardening for more than 50 years, so I have developed a lot of work-saving techniques. The original bed preparation generally takes the most time, but doing it right will pay off in the development of a healthy soil and future garden maintenance. I use and recommend double-digging, raised beds, minimal tilling, mulching, cover crops, and close spacing. The harvesting, freezing, drying, and canning, also takes considerable time, but knowing that the produce is free of pesticides, rich in minerals, and tasty, makes it all worthwhile.

Gardening Partners. If vegetable gardening is a new venture for you, I recommend you find a friend or neighbor who has similar interests. You can share information, seeds and some produce. Start by growing a few of the standard, easy-to-grow crops, and then expand each year. Try some crops you know little about. Look for enjoyment, surprises and good eating. I am always available to answer questions.

Sweet Corn, Paramagnetic Rock, and More

The seed catalog says, "Sweet Corn, Country Gentleman (Shoe-peg) - 95 days." I grew this 1890 Heirloom variety successfully in 2007, and decided to grow it again in 2008, using some new techniques. I have been a gardener for more than 50 years, but what followed surprised me.

I teach a gardening course, Biological/Organic Gardening and More, so I am always trying new crops and new ideas that may help gardeners become more sustainable. In addition, I strive to develop practices that make for effective but easy gardening. I have double-dug, raised beds and actually work the soil as little as possible. I never use a tiller. I have a silty-clay-loam soil, with 5 percent organic matter content, and have been fertilizing with organic materials for seven years. Here in Northwest Arkansas, we have a long growing season, so sweet corn can be planted over an extended time to get several successive pickings, even with 95-day corn.

Oats and/or Austrian winter peas make excellent fall/winter cover crops in our climate. The oats is my cover crop choice for beds that can be planted from mid-August through September. The oats will grow to 30 inches in height by the end of November, and then winter-kill when the temperature gets below 20 degrees. The oats generally fall over, mat down, and provide a thick bed of straw mulch for soil protection and weed control until I am ready to plant in the spring and summer. The Austrian Winter Peas are my choice for a late season cover crop, i.e. anything planted after October 1. The peas stop growing in December and resume again in February, and in the process, fix a lot of nitrogen in the soil.

For the bed where the 95-day corn was to be planted, I used Austrian winter peas for the fall/winter cover crop. In mid-May I cut off the 3-foot pea vines at the ground line, and laid them back on the beds for mulch, I did not till or work the soil in any way. Two weeks later, (June 2), I planted the Country Gentleman corn.

This year I added soil and foliar fertilizer mixes, as recommended on the basis of soil tests, by International Agriculture Labs, basically following the Reams system. All the soil fertilizers were simply added to the surface. In addition, I have become a strong believer in the use of paramagnetic rock for building soil energy. In the fall of 2007, before I planted the peas, I added one pound of paramagnetic rock per square foot, to all of my garden beds. My original garden soil had paramagnetic values of 80 -100 CGS, but by mixing the paramagnetic rock in the soil, to an 8-inch depth, I raised the CGS values to over 500. I felt that would be a good paramagnetic value starting point.

I have been gardening for 50 years and have been following the organic approach for more than 35. Yet what happened with this year's sweet corn is an unusual story. Remember now, this is 95-day corn, and I planted it late, so we could be eating it in late August and early September.

Here are the results. In three days after planting, the corn was up and it began to grow. In 30 days the corn was 6 feet tall, in 40 days it was 9 feet, in 50 days it was 12 feet, and on the 59th day from planting, we ate sweet corn with a Brix reading of 20. A few days later, the harvested corn had Brix values from 24-30. Any gardener would be happy to have these results. So what is the explanation for my corn reaching maturity in 59 days?

I strongly suspect that the paramagnetic rock was a big contributor for the rapid growth and early maturity. Many studies by Dr. Phil Callahan, Malcom Beck, and others attest to an increase in growth and other desirable traits for plants in soils where paramagnetic values are high. Dan Skow, D.V.M. and Charles Walters Jr. in their book, Mainline Farming for Century 21, point out that the growing season for 110-day corn can be shortened by creating a powerful magnetic field. In the mid-west corn belt, 110-day corn matures in about 110 days, whereas in central Mexico, where the magnetic field is less, it takes 9 months. See also The Non-Toxic Farming Hand book by Phillip A Wheeler, Ph.D. and Ronald B Ward, Biological Farm Management System Handbook by Bruce Tainio, and Graeme Sait in Nutrition Rules! for explanations and the value of paramagnetic rock. It's critical to understand that paramagnetic rock does not substitute for lack of minerals. The mineral content and mineral ratios need to be correct. Besides increasing growth and shortening the time to maturity, paramagnetic rock can increase frost hardiness, winter hardiness, insect and disease resistance, soil water holding capacity, microbial activity, flowering, and drought hardiness, as well as improve nutrient utilization.

Although what I have done, shortening the growing season, is not new, it's the magnitude of the change that is amazing. I point all this out because I think that we as gardeners can all decrease the time from planting to harvest, and simultaneously increase production and quality simply by following good soil nutrition rules and by raising the soil paramagnetic values. Shortening the growing season is not an academic endeavor. It's important from an economic standpoint for market gardeners, and it's critical in the northern climates, where early frosts can often curtail production. I will be experimenting further to shorten the growing season for a marginal crop in this area – figs.

If there is a negative in this, it's that the season for harvesting the sweet corn was also shortened. I had a similar situation with my Golden Bantam sweet corn this year, in that the time to maturity and harvesting period were both reduced. I believe that the shortened harvesting period can be remedied for growers simply by planting smaller, successive crops. In fact, once you understand the dynamics for your crops, it may make marketing easier to manage. After seeing what was occurring with the corn, I planted some cherry bell radishes, just to observe growth rates. When planted on August 9th, we were eating fully developed radishes in 18 days. Again, that was a substantial reduction from what I normally expect in our area.

I encourage gardeners and farmers to give paramagnetic rock a fair trial. For measuring the paramagnetic values, you will want a Phil Callahan Soil Meter, which is available from Pike Agri-Labs Supplies, Inc. located in Jay, Maine. The bottle-neck for many will be finding a source of the paramagnetic rock. Fortunately here in Northwest Arkansas, we have an organic farm and garden supply store (Nitron Industries in Johnson, AR) that purchased a big load of paramagnetic rock. The paramagnetic value of the rock is very high, testing over 10,000 CGS. The rock was purchased from Doug Murray, in Paw Paw, Michigan. Call Doug Murray at 269-930-9309 for details. He gets the rock from Canada, and can deliver it to any site.

I have been excited about this energy-building rock, since I first read about it. My vision was that my entire garden and eventually my entire 2 acres would be fully charged with magnetic energy, assisted by the paramagnetic rock. I visualize the entire site as an energy bubble, extending from below ground to above the plant surfaces. This was the first full year that the rock was applied to the garden, and the Brix levels of the produce have increased considerably. Better nutrition surely helped too. I have grown Moon and Stars watermelons for several years and their size has been in the range described in the catalogues, i.e. 10 - 25 pounds. Not this year! All the melons were considerably larger, several exceeding 40 pounds.

Another observation this year has been the increase in the number of birds and their activity. Since early spring, we consistently had more bird species in our garden area, in pairs, mating and nesting, than any previous year. It was like they found our energy bubble island, they liked it, and they decided to stay. We didn't mind, even the feeding of 30 or more hummers all summer.

The idea that energy is a key component to the biological gardening and farming approach is not always easy to explain or sell, especially to the conventional gardeners and farmers. When folks see my 12 foot corn in 50 days, eating it at day 59, and with a Brix of 20 plus, they want to know more. For some, it leads to a stop at the garden store to get a bag or two of paramagnetic rock. I never criticize the gardeners for their past gardening practices. I do coach them to move in the Go-Natural approach. For some it is the first small step to healthier eating, a friendlier approach on the environment, and hopefully someday realizing the social injustice that is currently being imposed on many farmers and indigenous people of developing countries, who are losing the use of their heirloom seeds with the infusion of GMOs.

I will be following up with observations on other crops in the future. For those who have observations and/or questions, I welcome your information and inquiry. In the currently existing "world food crisis" era, and the rapidly growing interest in raising our own food, we as gardeners have valuable skills to share. I hope we can all be working together to provide the best information possible.

Calvin F. Bey, Ph.D., is a retired agriculture scientist, living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a passion for teaching others about eco-gardening. He and his wife Doris use their demonstration garden and energy-efficient home to help others understand the concept of sustainability. He can be reached at or see

November 25, 2008

Science Based Organics

I spent several evenings this month reading scientific papers published in the Proceedings of the Second Scientific Conference of the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research. The conference was held in Modena, Italy in June of 2008. The Proceedings include over 400 papers. These are science based papers and include every kind of agriculture topic, coming from all over the world.

Many scientists from the United States had papers in the Proceedings and I was interested in those with long-term results. Iowa State University scientists reported on their 9-year corn and soybean tests, comparing conventional and organic systems. Here are their conclusions: (1) No differences in production figures between organic and conventional. (2) Costs of production were lower for organics. (3) Revenues for organic corn were 1.67 times greater than for conventional. (4) Revenues for organic soybeans were 2.32 times greater than for conventional. (5) Soil organic carbon and mineralizable nitrogen were greater in the organic tests.

The Proceedings included a lot of papers on soil development, plant nutrients, and beneficial micro-organisms. The conclusions or themes that are revealed include: (1) organic systems are better than conventional systems for building soil organic matter and fertility; (2) there is less leaching of nutrients, especially nitrogen, from organic systems, and (3) organic systems with good microbial populations utilize nutrients more effectively and also increase production. In a different vein, one study in Italy showed that residue from transgenic (Genetically Modified Organism) corn (with the Bt gene) reduced the establishment of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. It's another reason why "certified organic" growers in the US are not allowed to use GMO seeds.

In another recent publication, ACRES USA, there are several articles on compost. The authors, with many years of personal experience dealing with farmers and gardeners, quote long standing research studies dealing with soil fertility and compost. I am a firm believer that compost is a key element as you garden, whether it is a conventional or an organic approach; but, with the following qualification…the amount of compost to use must be considered in light of soil nutrient availability. If used wisely, compost is a great product for many soils and it will pay great dividends. Compost provides nutrients, aids in promoting life in the soil and neutralizing toxins, improves soil water holding capacity, and improves soil tilth (structure and workability). As with any soil amendment or process, there are some misconceptions and cautions about the use of compost.

The misconceptions about compost, are as follows: (1) All compost is alike. In fact, the quality of compost depends on the composting process and what special products have been added. (2) The more compost you use, the better. You can't add too much. In fact, the amount to apply should be dependent on the soil nutrient analysis. There are times, e.g. when K levels are high and Ca is low, you should probably not be adding any compost. Remember, if a soil has too much of something, it will always have too little of something else. Nutrient-dense foods do not come from soils that are excessive in any of the required nutrients. (3) Compost should be applied regularly. In fact, compost should be applied when the soil analysis calls for it. (4) For good fertility, compost is all the gardener needs. In fact, soils often need some nutrients beyond what compost provides. It is entirely possible for a soil to already have too much of what compost provides. (5) Compost is far superior to all other fertilizers and soil amendments. In fact, compost is a tool for a specific job, and not an either/or decision.

If you are new at gardening, by all means become familiar and committed to composting. You can compost essentially all of your yard, garden, and kitchen wastes. It can be applied to the trees, bushes, vegetables, and flowers. Using compost moves you closer to becoming sustainable. As the price of fertilizers rise, and the economy weakens, compost becomes more and more important and valuable. Use it wisely.

Caring for Creation Seminar, Sequoyah, Oct 08

Caring for the Land – Our Stewardship Responsibility

Calvin F. Bey

I was born in 1936, and I grew up in a dairy farm in northern Michigan in a time when life was still relatively simple. Stewardship of the land was mostly about conservation and preservation practices. Stewardship on the farm meant you rotated crops, left land fallow, cultivated for weed control, terraced to prevent soil erosion, maintained soil quality by growing alfalfa and plowing it under, and used the animal manures to keep up soil fertility. Commercial fertilizers were used sparsely, and you saved seed for next year's planting.

Our "way of life on the farm," was done mostly with knowledge passed on from the previous generations. We strived to work with and follow the laws of Nature. We understood that we would make sacrifices for the greater good of soil and water sustainability.

That early philosophy of stewardship did not last, and it bothers me as to what has happened over the past 75 years (one short lifetime). Natural resource stewardship has degenerated to where we now routinely use the resources for our personal and corporate advantage. Farming has become more about business than about Nature. In many cases Nature is viewed as being inanimate, an infinite resource chest, and a place to dump toxins and wastes.

We have grown to think of Nature as an object that we control; as a slave, rather than a "living being" with a heart beat, and a partner in a cooperative venture. Nature is often viewed as property, to be bought, sold and used in keeping with what is deemed necessary and desirable for ourselves. We have done many things to destabilize Nature, rather than working to stabilize the Natural systems. It's appropriate to say, "Our heart is bent in on itself," meaning that we have treated Nature with self-centeredness rather than self-sacrifice. And it happened on our watch with governments, big business, and Universities participating, if not leading the way.

Perhaps like many cultures, our American transformation came as we ushered in and promulgated the benefits that came with the Industrial Revolution. We took pride in our technical successes, doubled our life expectancy, and lifted millions from poverty and scourge of disease. Unfortunately, maintaining intimacy with the Earth and Nature was not a central theme.

The 20th century theme in America could very well be characterized as "becoming bigger consumers." Alan Durning, in How Much Is Enough?, claims that during the period of 1950-2000, global workers and consumers produced and consumed as many goods and services, than in the entire period of history before that date. Americans in particular became a nation of people who collected "stuff". It was better to have more than to have enough. Witness today those who have houses full of stuff plus rented storage facilities for their "overflow."

In Matthew 12:24, we hear the clear message: "No man can serve two masters." In many ways, the money master has won the day, sometimes in the very name of God.

It's time to change our behavior regarding stewardship of land and all natural resources. It needs to begin with the Hippocratic oath, "First, do no harm" -- to the environment. It needs to be about respecting the laws of Nature, in all that we do. And for ourselves, it's about sacrificing and living with the philosophy that "having enough is better than having more."

To help provide standards and goals for desired future conditions, we need to understand the conditions that develop when Nature is in control. We can also learn a lesson from the description of the Creation account in Genesis 2. I understand that the Hebrew word for Adam means "earth creature," and the Hebrew word for Eve means "living." Soil and Life are our primordial identity. Our reason for being here is to be the guardians of the earth, meaning the topsoil, all the land, all the waters, and all resources.

As we deal with stewardship of planet earth, we need to have full appreciation of our roles as humans. First, we must be like vigilant, caring shepherds who look out for their sheep, selectively intervening for the sake of sustaining the flock. Second, we are responsible for serving the Earth and protecting it. We must become partners with the Earth, not operating like we have control over it. And third, we need to honor the immaculate integrity of all the natural systems. Resource practices that build, restore and amplify life should be encouraged.

The land stewardship practices that are needed today include a lot of remediation efforts. The issues revolve around two classes of natural resources – those that are limited and those that are renewable. For the limited resources, like oil, coal, copper, etc, it's a matter of developing proper extraction management policies and practices to insure extension of the resources, while looking for substitutes.

For the renewable resources, the issues of today have developed because of bad management practices. It is sad but true, that among many things, we have polluted our streams, rivers, and ground water, and have lost much of our top soil and soil fertility. These are critical life-giving resources that took a long time to develop, and will require long-term remediation techniques.

Our forbearers would be appalled to find that our stewardship practices have sent essentially every major life system into decline, and threatens the well-being of future generations of all earth's creatures, including man. If able to inquire, our forbearers would surely ask about life on the farm. They would ask questions like, "who runs the family farm, how are the neighbors getting along, is that old spring still functioning, and does Aunt Susie have enough vegetables "put up" for the winter?" They would be shocked to know that the family farm was sold to a large farm corporation, the neighbor's land is now a shopping center with 4 acres of asphalt parking, the spring has been polluted with farm pesticides, and that most folks don't grow their own vegetables, and certainly could not be bothered with "putting them up," whatever that means. Maybe we should give some thought to "life on the farm."

October 19, 2008

Selecting the Garden Site

In my Garden Thyme article last month, I wrote about "money in the bank," i.e. the value of nitrogen fixing plants, and how we can benefit. At that time, we didn't know the seriousness of the looming financial crisis, nor the serious adjustments in standard of living that would come quickly for so many. The first and hardest effected will be the poorest. I am afraid there are stressful times ahead. I am already hearing about folks who are now thinking about what garden produce they might grow to help their financial situation. As Master Gardeners, we can do more vegetable gardening for ourselves and help others.

Many of you say that you do not have a place in the back yard for vegetables. Well, how about the front yard?! Don't count it out. I have plenty of back yard garden space, but this year for demonstration purposes, I planted a cherry tomato in the front yard and surrounded it with marigolds. See recent October photo. I used a heavy wire, 5-foot high, 30-inch diameter cage for good support of the tomato vines. From that single plant, we have picked hundreds of plumb-size tomatoes and as of today, October 15, there are still more than 150 tomatoes on the plant. That one plant is sufficient for all our fresh tomatoes, and more. I will cover that plant for the first light frost or two, so we will likely have fresh tomatoes well into November.

Don't restrict yourself to tomatoes for the front yard. You could do about any vegetable crop. The only troublesome ones might be the vine-type vegetables like cucumbers, melons, or pumpkins that are hard to contain.

Here are the questions to ask as you decide where you place your garden. (1) Do I have enough direct sun? Ideally, go for full sun, but six hours of direct sun will do for some crops. (2) Where is my best soil? If you have choice, probably more important than anything else, select the soil that is the deepest. Get out the shovel and dig some holes. Soils low in organic matter and nutrients can be fixed. (3) Are there nearby troubling tree roots? My recommendation is that you stay 30 feet or more from any tree crown drip line. Once tree roots get into your garden space, you will have trouble. They will quickly proliferate, and rob the site of minerals and water. Keeping the tree roots cut off will be a challenge. Some people will cut down a tree in favor of the vegetable garden. I know, I have done it.

Besides selecting the garden site, I encourage you to plan your garden in considerable detail. Draw a map of the garden and decide what crop is going where. Get your seed early, and share seed with others. Last spring, seed companies experienced record sales, and ran out of seed. Next year promises to be an even bigger year for seed sales. I will be ordering some seeds in bulk, including some heirloom varieties, growing some plants, and having some available for my organic gardening class students and for Master Gardeners. If interested talk to me early about this.

By all means, get a soil test in January. The nutrient content cannot be determined by just looking at the soil. Whether it is a first-time vegetable garden or not, I recommend you get the organic matter content tested. It costs a few dollars, but is well worth it, especially if you are coming to me to get advice on an organic fertilization program. I am willing to help on organic gardening problems, but much like a human medical situation, better advice is assured with more information. I generally want a history of the site (fertilizers, pesticides, mulches, cover crops, composts, etc), soil test results, and problems during the last season. Together that gives me clues about what you might need to do to grow nutrient-dense produce.

I have looked at hundreds of Arkansas soil test reports, and the results from gardens are extremely variable. For different gardens, for any given nutrient, the pounds per acre from the lowest to highest can be 20 fold or more. Without a soil test report, any fertilization recommendations given will be little more than a wild guess. I prefer to leave the gambling to those going to Las Vegas.

Nitrogen-Fixing Plants - Money in the Bank

To most of us, the idea of getting something free is appealing. The old adage, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," was originally said with the idea of people doing favors for each other. In a very similar way, that is what happens in nature with plants that extract nitrogen from the air, bottle it in little containers called nodules on the plants roots, and in turn use the nitrogen for their own growth. What a deal. It's like winning the lottery without buying a ticket, putting the money in the bank, and drawing interest.

There are well over 1,000 nitrogen-fixing plants, from bacteria, algae, ferns, shrubs, and commercial crops to many species of trees. These plants serve as important components in the intricate way Nature has designed complex ecosystems. We have learned how the "fixation" process works and which plants can generate the most nitrogen. Some of the nitrogen-fixers, which are classified as legumes, include garden peas, Austrian winter peas, beans, cowpeas, vetch, clover and alfalfa, to name just a few. Many farmers have used alfalfa in their crop rotation system, for building better soils. Alfalfa penetrates deep into the soil (even heavy clay soils), extracts minerals, increases soil organic matter, and add lots of nitrogen in the process.

Our air is 78 percent nitrogen, which means we have almost 3 tons of nitrogen above each acre of land. Unfortunately, plants cannot normally use it directly from the air in the stable gaseous state. It needs to first be converted into the various nitrate compounds. In most legumes that conversion comes about because of a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria, which form those little white (pink inside) nodules on the plant roots.
The plants provide the bacteria with carbohydrates for energy and a stable environment for growth, while the bacteria give the plants nitrogen and other nutrients. Dig up a clover or bean plant in your garden and see if the nodules are present. If not, you may need to add bacteria (inoculum) to get the "fixation" process started. Most seed companies have the specific inoculum that you will need for your crop.

The amount of nitrogen produced by nitrogen-fixers can be very significant. Depending on soil conditions and the species, you can get 75-150 or more pounds of nitrogen produced per acre. Best of all, it is in a form that the plants can use and will be slowly released for use over the season. It's not likely to be leached out of the soil, and it is not going to be toxic or burn the plants.

I see many gardens and most gardeners are not using the nitrogen-fixing plants to their advantage. They are rejecting this free offer to put money in the bank. Organic growers apply nitrogen using a great variety of slow-release fertilizer sources – compost from vegetation and manures, alfalfa meal, fish meal, feather meal, and blood meal. These are all good, non-leachable forms, which will benefit plant growth. To move in the direction of being more sustainable, it would pay to use more of the nitrogen-fixing plants.

I use Austrian winter peas, and like to have them in the ground by October 1. They will grow for 6-8 weeks in the fall, and then resume growth again in February. By May 15, they will 30 inches or more tall and have produced a lot of nitrogen. The Austrian winter pea vegetation makes excellent compost, or you can use it for mulch on the garden. It's money in the bank!

September 4, 2008

Genetic Diversity and Heirloom Seeds

To understand the basics of growing organic crops, it's necessary to deal with ecological principles. One of those principles, or otherwise referred to as a law of nature, deals with genetic diversity and heirloom seeds.

The central principle on this subject, in a nutshell, is this: the more genetic diversity we have in a garden, field, forest or major ecosystem, the more stable will be that system. We often refer to that diversity as a measure of the buffering capacity of that system to adjust to whatever forces of nature are present. Nature promotes that diversity at several different levels, and for good reasons. Walk into a hardwood forest in this area, and you see trees, shrubs, bushes, herbs, and grasses – all above ground. Beneath the soil surface you see an equally rich plethora of plant and animal life. It's all tied together and functioning for the most ulterior goal of all -- to maintain a sustainable system. Nature is not obsessed with producing bins and bushels, as has been man in gardening and farming over the last century. In each plant class in that same forest, you see a variety of species, and within the species a variety of genotypes (a slightly different genetic make-up.) All of that diversity is important for buffering the system from disaster. Certainly with a natural system, genetic diversity is considered a positive value. When we make selections within a species (as in all crop breeding), we begin to narrow that diversity. We are basically trading off the diversity value for some improved traits.

Obviously, we can't expect to grow crops under the forest conditions, nor can we grow 20 garden vegetables in the same square foot. However, in our gardens, the more crops and companion species we grow (increased diversity), the greater is the buffering capacity to disaster. Grow three kinds of beans, and depending on the season, one will usually do a little better than the others. I suppose since domestication of crops began, we have been selecting plants for a variety of traits – yield, pest resistance, drought hardiness, etc. The hybridization approach was only a more complex way of doing the same thing. The same is true of the gene insertion procedures, to give us the genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Whatever the procedure, the trade-off has been the decreasing of the genetic base, and thus reducing the capacity to resist specific disasters.

The continual narrowing of the genetic base has been a major concern, and from that has come many programs to find plants and seeds from which modern lines were derived, and many seed-saving efforts. The Seed Savers Exchange is a formal effort to find and perpetuate 'lines" of crops that are not found in the commercial ventures today. The "lines" are open-pollinated (free to cross with the neighbors), and anyone can save seed from those lines and grow a like-kind of crop the next year. That in not the case with seed saved from hybrids. They do not breed true. Basically, GMOs are hybrids with special gene insertions. With GMOs, the seed companies own the gene patents, so it is illegal to save and use any seed that contains the patented genes. For GMOs, just as in hybrids, you must go to the company for new seed each year.

In my garden, I mostly use open-pollinated seeds, and in some cases they are heirlooms. Heirloom seed is simply seed that has been handed down in families over many years. Some will refer to heirlooms as seed that was originally collected over 50 years ago. If you grow vegetables, it's likely that you have grown some heirloom varieties. There are hundreds (one catalogue lists 1100 heirloom varieties for sale) and the list is growing as new ones are discovered. If you have grown Arkansas Traveler or Ox Heart tomatoes, Contender bush beans, .Detroit Dark Red beets, Nantes or Danvers Half Long carrots, Late Flat Dutch cabbage, Moon and Stars watermelon, and Golden Bantam or Country Gentleman sweet corn, then you have grown an heirloom line. Many of the lines go back to the 1800s and some even earlier.

Yields and quality from heirloom varieties can be very good. Because there are many unusual types, it is sometimes just fun to plant them for the novelty and education. You don't need 12-foot sweet corn to get good production, but as I showed last month, Country Gentleman sweet corn turned out to be a good choice this year. Through some special soil treatments, I grew this 95-day corn, from planting to initial harvest in 59 days. The cobs were large and the corn had an excellent Brix rating (nutrient dense). I had equally excellent results with the heirloom Detroit Dark Red beets and the Nantes carrots. See the photos.

I encourage you to look in specialty seed catalogues and get some of the heirloom seeds. You will find that you have many choices to select from, and you just may find some tasty varieties, that have been long gone from some of the hybrids. Then, by saving your own seed, you take another step to becoming more sustainable. For good sources to further explore this topic, see, or

August 7, 2008

Late-Summer and Fall Gardens

The first part of August is the time to plan for the late-summer/fall garden. Fall crops that will do well here include; lettuce, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Plan to put those seeds or plants in the ground in late August or early September. Get a soil test now to guide you before you plant the fall crop. If you want to use an organic fertilization approach, I am willing to help you. Just contact me after you have the soil test report. In advising, I also like to know what fertilizers you have applied this past year, and what kind of production and problems you have encountered.

In the last couple months, I have dealt with several gardeners, who have been using too much compost for their vegetables. As a result they are getting lush vegetative growth, but not good fruit production. Just like fertilizer recommendations, the amount of compost to apply needs to be calculated and measured. A soil test for minerals and a test for organic matter content are strongly advised.

For gardeners with raised beds, this has been a good year. The 7.5 inches of rain in June and 5 inches in early July has generally resulted in exceptionally good plant growth. A few folks, without raised beds, have had some problems with too much rain. Some noticed the plants wilting after the big rains. It's likely that their soil is super saturated and that the soil air space is filled with water. The plant roots need air, so the plants are under stress and unable to grow. Plants like this can wilt just like they might do under drought conditions.

If you are not going to grow a fall garden, by all means get a cover crop of oats planted, not later than mid-September. Last year I had a patch of melons, still producing at the first of September, on beds where I wanted to get a cover crop of oats. I simply scattered the oats on the beds, scratched it in a little and spread a quarter inch of compost on the top. In a few days it germinated, and by the time the melons were gone (mid-September), the oats was several inches tall. In the next two months, it grew to 30 inches, died back in January, and left the soil fully covered until I was ready to plant in the spring. In March, I just raked the oats straw cover back and planted—not tilling or even turning the soil. On that spot I just took off onions (1015Y), that produced 75 pounds in 25 square feet.

Another good cover crop choice is Austrian Winter Peas. They have the advantage of fixing nitrogen in the soil. Like oats, they will germinate quickly and make a cover in a short time. They will stop growing in December here in NW Arkansas, but will resume growth again in February. They are nitrogen fixers, so when it was time to plant corn (June 2 this year for me), I simply pulled the peas and left them in place for mulch. I planted the corn and in 43 days, by July 15, I had heirloom "Country Gentleman" corn that was more than 9 feet tall. See photo and other garden photos on my website. Gardening can be made simple, and often with less work than you might anticipate. Just follow a few key guidelines and respect the Laws of Nature.

I will be teaching a course (Organic/Biological Gardening) in August and again in September. For those interested, please contact me. The course is packed with a lot of information. See my site: for course details and other gardening information.

If you are observing your trees this year, you have probably noticed that the oaks and pecans have an excellent seed crop. After a near-bust mast crop in 2007, the situation for wildlife looks good. I have 7-year old grafted and seedling pecans that are loaded with seed. Though we have a few months to go, I am looking forward to a bountiful harvest. If you are interested in growing pecans as a crop, give me a call.

July 7, 2008

2008 Garden Photos

July 7,2008


So far, 2008 has been a good gardening year. Although we had a cool spring, the rains have been very helpful and temperatures in late May and June were moderate. The raised beds have been very helpful for drainage with the many rains. Most crops have done well. I am posting a few pictures of the garden and the produce.

Note also some photos of a few of our bird friends, winter garden design, and an experiment with the use of sprinklers to keep from losing peaches in 25 degree temperatures in mid May.

We had a very good "Field Day" here in early June and many folks have dropped by since that time. Our goal is to help others to grow their own vegetables in a sustainable manner. We strive to grow nutrient dense produce, using the natural (organic) approach. It works! It builds soil and it is far better for the land and for our health. With food becoming an increasing world-wide scarcity (a crisis), it behooves us all to seek ways to be better stewards. By avoiding toxic pesticides, most chemical fertilizers and GMOs, we take the first step to improvement of our land. See pictures of produce below, grown by following the Laws of Nature.

Blessings, Calvin and Doris

July 2, 2008

World Food Crisis -- Here and Now--Our Opportunity

Organic Gardening and More

"World Food Crisis"--Here and Now--Our Opportunity

By Calvin F. Bey

We have all been hearing about what is now called the "World Food Crisis." As I have followed environmental issues over the past 25 years, I often had the feeling that future generations in the US would someday be facing food scarcity and food security issues. Never did I expect that so soon we would see leading magazines featuring the "World Food Crisis," nor country after country already experiencing food riots.

This world issue is now affecting us in the US and promises to become more severe. There are obvious reasons; oil prices are up, food crops are being diverted into ethanol, there are weather related crop losses, and grain futures market speculations that drive up prices. As Americans, our food prices in the past have been unusually low, so price increases now make for difficult adjustments. The fact is that rising food prices (40% world-wide in last 2 years), have hurt the poorest, first and hardest. For those already living on marginal calories, many will become starvation victims. It greatly concerns me that the trends described above are likely to continue and will probably even accelerate.

This "world" problem is here and now in the US. Many people in the US are experiencing hardships and becoming more concerned about their food supply. We are hearing more and more about sharpening our skills to survive under "rules" of scarcity. There has already been a surge in the number of people interested in home gardening. W. Atlee Burpee and Co. sold twice as many seeds this year as it did last year. Seed Savers Exchange ran out of seed potatoes this year and mailed 10,000 tomato and pepper transplants in May, double the usual amount. Stark Bothers Nurseries and Orchards Co., and others are reporting increased sales. I have had more than 100 people tour my vegetable garden this spring. Most were new folks wanting to learn how to do a better job of growing their own produce. While all of this is great, it is also an indication of a developing need in society—the need to train others in growing vegetables. To me, it seems a perfect fit that we as
Master Gardeners become known for helping to address the "world food crisis" issue.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we as Master Gardeners began placing more effort in our Chapters on how we can help others grow their own food in a sustainable manner? We could start by encouraging more Master Gardeners to grow vegetables for themselves and then training others. I think that this needs to be an entirely grassroots effort. By that, I mean individuals in Chapters taking on additional responsibility to learn more about vegetable growing and to help others grow their own food in a sustainable manner. It will succeed best if done at the grassroots level. Being a gardening mentor for a neighbor or a friend can be a very helpful and rewarding experience. Perhaps there could be more official MG projects that would fit into this category.

In the future, when asked what Master Gardeners have done to help with the world food crisis, I would like to be able to say, "We began by helping our neighbors grow more of their own food. And then the neighbors began helping their neighbors. And soon we had a community of growers and believers in an effort that made locally-grown produce a reality. Yes, Master Gardeners and their neighbors were important contributors in the grassroots efforts in making a difference for themselves, their neighbors and for the World Food Crisis."

I suggest that this idea be promoted in every Master Gardener Chapter in Arkansas and throughout the entire country.

May 21, 2008

Why do more than be "organic'?

Almost 40 years ago now, a co-worker explained to me how he had grown strawberries successfully and continuously in the same bed for 17 years. That was very different from the two-year system that I knew about, so I was curious. It turned out he was growing strawberries organically, and was using a light layer of wood chips to cover the beds. I tried his system, it worked, and I began following organic gardening practices. It took until the last few years for me to fully understand why his system for strawberries was so successful. In short, the organic system was keeping the soil system biologically healthy and the wood chips favored the correct balance between beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi that are ideal for strawberries. I use this example to demonstrate that change often only comes after we see results for ourselves. Taking that first step is often the hard part of making a change.

When I teach organic gardening classes, I explain the rationale for going organic in this manner. Do it for the benefit of creating a healthy, pollution-free environment, and for the benefit of growing produce that is free of toxins. Chemical pesticides are toxic. They are designed to kill and they continue to compromise human health. There are many bona-fide medical studies to support this contention. Furthermore, the organic approach leads you much more in the direction of sustainable production. In fact, the history lesson from chemical farming in this country is that we have depleted organic matter and minerals in our soils, and allowed most of the top soil to wash or blow away.

It is not more difficult or risky to garden organically. Given that you understand and follow the common organic principles and practices, growing vegetables organically is not more difficult. It may take a few years to make the complete conversion, but with a little patience, you will be rewarded for your efforts. In short, you need to adopt the philosophy and work in harmony with the Laws of Nature, and relinquish the "control nature" attitude (management with arrogance, I call it). Your focus becomes building a healthy soil, which produces healthy plants, produce, and consumers.

It is not more expensive to garden organically. Gardening costs will depend on the organic matter and mineral content level that you have in your soil. For the first few years, you may have more costs as you concentrate on building up the soil. It's important to think about costs in relation to value received, not just the pounds and bushels of produce. Agriculture consultant and medical doctor, Dr. Arden Anderson, puts it this way, "With chemically grown produce, your first grocery bill installment is at the supermarket. Your second installment is at the medical Doctor's office. "

How about organic yields? Just as in any type of farming or gardening, the yield and quality of produce in organics depends on the management practices and the skill and diligence of the grower. There are many organic approaches, and the minimum approach to qualify for "organics" is rarely adequate to get the highest yield and quality. That is why I insist on "Organic Gardening and More." My approach is to concentrate on keeping the soil biologically healthy and getting the minerals to proper levels and proper ratios. The application of compost plays a major role in developing the potential in the soil. My garden plot is roughly 1500 square feet, and last year my production was right at 1500 pounds. I get about 100 pounds of tomatoes per plant, and have had as much as 150 pounds. I regularly monitor nutrient density (Brix readings) of my produce and, as a rule; they exceed that of store bought produce.

Special equipment is not needed. I have been using raised beds, without sideboards, and have no problems. The beds drain quickly and warm up a little faster in the spring. I double-dug my garden the first year, and incorporated organic matter into the lower soil layers. That has paid off in increased water holding capacity of the soil and increased production. I have never used a roto-tiller, which is hard on soil structure and beneficial fungi. Those who visit my garden see the deep, mellow, crumbly soil that has never been tilled. I believe strongly in keeping a crop, mulch, or cover crop on the soil at all times. It is the primary factor in promoting a biologically active and healthy soil.

Crop rotation is important, but difficult to manage when growing 25 different kinds of vegetables each year. I try to move things around, avoiding tomatoes and corn (heavy feeders) in the same place each year. I use a few companion plants in the garden, and if soil conditions are right, I use the energy cycles of the cosmos (moon signs) to guide planting dates.

The organic movement is the fastest growing segment in world-wide agriculture today. It is also a growing segment in USDA, with 100 scientists currently involved in research. In 2003, there were about 9,000 acres of cropland in organics in Arkansas. Though relatively small, it is good to see an organic horticulture program at the University of Arkansas, with Professors Dr. Curt Rom and Dr. Donn Johnson leading the research effort. The University student Organic Farm group has started vegetable gardens on the University Farm, and they sell at the Fayetteville Farmers Market.

My Organic Gardening Course is an all-day session (or more). The goal of the course is to help people make a smooth transition into organics, with emphasis on growing nutrient dense produce. Topics covered in the course include sustainability concepts, soils, fertilizers, composting, watering, timing, variety selection, cover crops, and many tips to make gardening effective, easy, and efficient. There are many good references on organic gardening. You can start by getting on the web and/or contacting me if you have questions. I will be doing a Garden Tour at my place on June 7 and all are welcome. See my web site for details. For Master Gardeners out of the area, let me know if I can be of assistance as you deal with organic programs and training.

Just as in farming, there are options for the approach you use in gardening. I encourage all gardeners to take a leap of faith and get on board in sustainable gardening using the organic methods. The long-term benefits include healthier produce, a healthier environment, and peace of mind that you are a part of the solution to the world's soil pollution problems. In the end, it all adds up to being responsible stewards for our home, our Planet Earth!

April 8, 2008

Meet "Myc" and Associates

So who is "Myc?" He is, or should be, your best gardening and landscaping friend. This is especially true if you are concerned about healthy trees and shrubs. "Myc" is short for the mycorrhizae, (mike-or-eye-z) fungi. The word "mycorrhizae" is from the Greek and means "fungus-root." In short, it is a symbiotic relationship between the plant roots and the fungi. In return for the exudates from the plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi seek out water and nutrients and bring them back to the plant. Neither can survive well without the other. An acre of healthy soil should contain a few thousand pounds of this fungus. What a great working relationship and what an amazing, wonderful natural system.

Mycorrihzae have been known since 1885, when German scientist Albert Frank compared pines grown in sterilized soil and those grown in sterilized soil but inoculated with forest fungi. Those with the fungi grew much faster and larger. We now know that more than 90 percent of all plants develop mycorrhizae, and only perform at their best when they are present. Clearly, fungicides and other pesticides, high salt inorganic fertilizers, and soil disturbances like roto-tilling destroy the fungal hyphae (the thread-like network of the fungi that you see in leaves and decaying wood chips).

The primary function of fungi is to break down organic matter in the soil. They are first rate decomposers, even better than bacteria. The enzymes that the fungi release allow them to penetrate not only the lignin and cellulose in plants (dead or alive) but hard chitin shells of insects and the bones of animals. The enzymes produced by fungi are decidedly acidic and can contribute to lowering of the soil pH. It is important to remember that they are living off plant root exudates, and it is the plant (through the production of the root exudates) that is in control. In the process of doing all this, the mycorrhizae move water and nutrients into the plant.

Mycorrhizal fungi are of two kinds. The first, ectomycorrhizal fungi, grow close to the root surface of roots and can form webs around them. This type is associated with hardwood trees and conifers. The second type,

endomycorrhizal fungi, actually penetrate and grow inside the roots, as well as extend outward into the soil. This type is preferred by most vegetables, annuals, grass, and shrubs. Both types increase the effective surface area of the plant's roots, from 10 to 100 times.

Mycorrhizae are very important in bringing phosphorus to the plant. The acid produced by the fungi can unlock, retrieve, and transport chemically locked-up phosphorus back to the plant. They can also free up copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron for plant use.

Mycorrhizae can be considered mineral storage facilities. They begin by breaking down organic matter, transporting the minerals to where they are needed, and leaving a storehouse full of reserves when they die. This is the way it works in Nature, and will work for us if we are not abusive to our soils with pesticide toxins and chemical fertilizers. For soils that have been poisoned with toxins, it is fungi, bacteria, and other soil organisms that can restore those soils. Just as they breakdown organic matter, they can breakdown the toxins. But why give them this added burden, if not necessary.

Is there anything I can do to increase the bacteria and fungi in my garden, orchard, and landscape trees? Yes indeed. First, you can change the cultural things you are doing. Remember, you want both bacteria and fungi in each situation. But, you want higher bacterial populations in the garden and higher fungal populations for the orchard and landscape trees. In the garden, the fungi:bacteria ratio should be at the 1:2 level; for the trees it should be at the 10:1 or greater level.

For the garden with a high bacterial requirement, follow these guidelines:

1. Slowly build the organic matter in the soil to 5 percent. Good compost will help.

2. Get the mineral ratios in the soil corrected.

3. Keep the soil in a crop, cover crop, or mulch at all times.

4. Avoid using anything toxic – pesticides, high salt chemical fertilizers, and even chlorinated water.

5. For better aeration, use raised beds.

6. Till as little as possible. No roto-tilling.

For the orchard and landscape trees, which require a high fungal population, follow these guidelines.

1. Slowly build organic matter to 5 percent.

2. Get the mineral ratios in the soil corrected.

3. Use some wood chips for mulch. A couple inches will do. Keep it away from the tree trunk.

4. Avoid using anything toxic on the soil.

5. Avoid situations where you will have drainage problems. Drain if needed.

6. No tilling. In addition to destroying fungi, you will tear up tree roots.

A second important improvement technique is simply to add fungi and bacteria inocula directly to your soil. Many landscapers are now adding mycorrhizal fungi as they plant shrubs and trees. These bacteria and fungi are available from many sources. For the garden, be sure you have a good mixture of bacterial and fungal species. For trees, look for sources that contain several species of the endo- and ectomychorrizal fungi types.

Severely abused, disturbed and polluted soils are the ones that will benefit most from the added inocula products. Whatever microbes you apply are not likely to hurt the soil. The plant and many other organisms already in the soil ecosystem will sort out which ones are needed, and the desirable ones will prevail. See the book by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, Teaming with Microbes, as well as the web, for much more detailed information on this subject.

March 14, 2008

Use Compost Wisely

April is the month that draws a gardening crowd. Soil temperatures will soon be 50 degrees F, and there is still time to plant all the spring crops. I deal with a lot of people who are already involved or want to be involved in the organic gardening approach. Many say that for the sake of their family's health they don't want pesticides on their gardens and lawns. They know the facts: pesticides are toxic, they are designed to kill, and they continue to compromise human health. For anyone switching to the organic approach, it is advisable to spend some time learning the principles and guidelines involved in the organic discipline. There are many good books on organic gardening and much information available on the web. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to call or send me an email.

When we think of going organic, we automatically think in terms of adding compost to our gardens. The average soil in Arkansas has 1.25% organic matter, and a desirable level in the garden is 5%, so compost is generally needed. The nutrient quality of the compost will only be as good as the material that went into the pile. It can vary a lot. Decomposed cotton burs are exceptionally high in potassium, and too much of that kind of compost can upset desirable mineral ratios in the soil.

How much compost to add depends on the soil's current organic matter level. It is best to think in terms of building the soil to a good organic matter and nutrient level, and then doing a maintenance program. As a guide for starting new garden beds, I recommend double-digging garden beds at least one time. When double-digging the first time, add 40 gallons of compost per 100 square feet to the lower layer (10-20-inch) and 20 gallons per 100 square feet to the to the top 10 inches. While building to the 5% organic matter level, add another 20 gallons per 100 square feet for each new crop. With this plan, in 3 or 4 years you will have a crumbly, sponge-cake like soil, vastly different from the original. Once you get to the 5% organic matter level, and you get the right amounts and ratios of minerals, and have good biological activity, the compost can likely be cut to 20 gallons per 100 square feet per year.

A yard of compost is about 200 gallons and is enough for 270 square feet for the initial double-digging phase. For subsequent applications, a yard will do about 1000 square feet.

Do not add excessive amounts of compost to your garden. Do not build a garden bed with compost and vermiculite or sand only. Unfortunately, I have seen gardens where this has been done. Nitrogen levels are too high and the plants are highly vegetative, but yield little. In addition those high nitrate plants attract insects, and the fruit produced is bound to be high in nitrates (not good). Excess compost can also bring the P and K to excessive levels. If that happens, back off on the compost and be sure the other nutrients are at the proper amounts and ratios. I use the Arkansas soil tests reports to look at pounds of nutrients per acre available, but depend on other sources for making organic recommendations.

Increased organic matter in the soil also improves the soil tilth (soil structure), and makes for a lighter,
fluffier, and easy-to-work soil that we all desire. Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of increased organic matter is the increased ability of the soil to hold water. The following table demonstrates just how important the organic matter is for holding water. "Humus" is the organic matter that has been digested by microbes.


(Note: 1 inch of water yields 28,000 gallons/acre or 643 gallons for 1,000 square feet.)


-----percent------------------inches---------------------inches of rain





The other important values of organic matter include its ability to provide nutrients and buffer the soil against pH changes. The organic matter also serves to hold nutrients in the soil. This is especially important in sandy soils. High organic soils are generally darker in color and can warm up faster in the spring. High organic matter soils have higher biological activity, which helps to keep the plants healthy.

It is wise to get a soil organic matter content analysis to check the effectiveness of your soil building activities. This organic matter test is done separately, so take an extra pint of soil when you get your other soil test done by the Extension Service. The regular soil test is free, but the organic matter test now costs $6.00.

Building the soil organic matter content requires a long-term commitment. Expect major improvement over the first few years, and then generally a slower process for the next 5-10 years. Remember to get soil tests and add minerals to the soil, where needed, at the same time you are adding the organic matter. It all works together, and eventually you reach a healthy, well-balanced soil that gives you tasty, nutrient-dense produce.

February 24, 2008

Soil Tilth, Soil Structure, and Soil Microbes

The most frequent garden question this time of year is, "when should I plant my potatoes, onions, etc?" My answer, use the Extension Service Year–Round Home Garden Planting Guide. It has a good list of garden plants with recommended planting dates. I also have a document on my web site, where I describe gardening activities, month by month.

I have already started a few hardy things outside, but they are under plastic. In fact, I have some lettuce and spinach that survived in the mini-greenhouse all winter. At this time of year, I have to open up the mini-greenhouse or it gets too hot on the warmer days. The biggest problem with mini-greenhouses in this area is the struggle with the wind.

Planning and record keeping are important aspects of gardening. I do it for two main reasons--to keep up with crop rotations and for keeping detailed records on soil fertilization. I really encourage you to keep up with all fertilizers and compost added to the garden. I also keep records on crop production, and do regular brix testing on the harvested produce.

Soil Tilth. To understand gardening, first and foremost you must understand that what goes on below the surface is the key to production. It's simple cause and effect. The healthy soil is the cause, and the production is the effect. Soil tilth refers to how easy the soil is to work, and is a general indicator of soil structure and health of the soil. Teaming with Microbes, by Jeff Lowenfel and Wayne Lewis is an excellent reference on this subject.

Soil structure refers to how the soil particles are held together, and is a very good indicator of how much life is in the soil. The more life there is in the soil, the better the structure and the better the tilth. Soil life means bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, earthworms and more. All of these produce sticky carbohydrates that act like glues, binding individual mineral and humic particles together in aggregates. The question of how to improve soil tilth, can be answered in three words. Improve soil life! Here are the do and don't rules in simple and straightforward form:

  • Do add compost and compost tea to increase soil organic matter to 5 percent or more, and to add beneficial microbes.
  • Do keep the soil covered at all times. Use cover crops and mulches.
    Do keep the soil well aerated. Use raised beds.
    Do remineralize the soil to the proper level to produce nutrient dense produce.
    Don't work the soil excessively. Roto-tilling destroys fungi and soil structure, and reduces the ability of soil to hold water.
    Don't add hostile, toxic compounds to the soil. Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

These rules apply to all kinds of soils – sandy, heavy clays, shallow, deep, rocky, acid, alkaline, anaerobic, humus, unadulterated or virgin, and those where excessive toxins have been used in the past. These rules are essentially the organic gardening methods--the preferred future, sustainability approach.

January 14, 2008

Planting Date Guide for NW Arkansas

This is a guide for gardening activities in NW Arkansas. See University of Arkansas Year-Round Home Planting Guide and for more details. Also see Jeavons' book, How to Grow More Vegetables, pages 78-79.


High Temp-degrees F--44---49---58----69----76---83---89---88---80---71---58----48
Low Temp-degrees F--22---27---37----36----55---63---68---66---59---47---37----27

Our growing season in NW AR is about 200 days. April 10 is the mean date of last spring freeze, and Oct 30 is the mean date of first fall freeze. Within the area, the freeze dates will vary depending on elevation, slope position, and year-to-year variation. The dates below are general guidelines.


Get a soil test from UA, Extension Service. It is free. Plan your garden layout and order seeds.
If soil is workable, in late January you may add compost and some fertilizers. Do not work the soil if it is too wet. If a handful of squeezed soil does not break apart when dropped, the soil is too wet to work. For fruit trees, this is time for pruning and dormant oil sprays. If you have winter weeds, pull them before they go to seed.

February and March

Seeds germinate more slowly in cool soils. Do not rush to plant if the season has been cloudy and cool. Sometimes by late February, temperatures will be above 40 degrees and you can plant Irish potatoes, onions, lettuce, beets, cabbage, broccoli, Swiss chard, radishes, kale, mustard, turnips, and English peas. You can repeat plantings of these crops until the end of March and into April. Basically all of these crops will handle light frosts of 27-28 degrees. When the weather gets hot, these crops will fade.

April and May

April is a great month for harvesting the spring vegetables and the tricky month for starting the summer vegetables. Summer vegetables will not survive frosts. As a rule, basil, squash, melons, okra, peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, cucumbers, dill, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes need a soil temperature of 60 degrees to germinate and grow. In a very warm year, they will do okay by planting in late April. However, by waiting until May, you are assured that there will be no frosts, soil temperature will be more ideal, and the plants will get off to a better start.

June and July

Where you have harvested the spring vegetables, you may want to plant additional summer crops. Sweet potatoes, hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, watermelon and okra love hot weather and will do well if planted in June. You can plant other summer vegetables in July, but high temperatures will generally hurt the plants and reduce yield.

August and September

August is another transition month. It will seem very much like summer, but you need to be thinking about fall vegetables. Fall vegetables like spinach, lettuce, beets, carrots, turnips, kale, and Swiss chard can be planted from mid August to mid September. As a rule you will get a better crop of these than when planted in the spring.

September is the ideal month to plant winter cover crops. Do a soil test in August, so you can fertilize before you plant the cover crop. I plant oats or Austrian winter peas on all the garden beds that are not in fall vegetables. When oats if planted in mid September, you will get a thick, tall stand of oats that will cover and protect the soil and crowd out weeds all winter.

October and November

If you have followed the general plan described here, these are the great gardening months. You will be eating some very good fall vegetables, and have relatively little other garden work to do. Fall vegetables are generally sweeter and more tasty. I also plant my garlic in October. Dig your sweet potatoes before the first frost. If you have fall/winter weeds, remove them by pulling or hoeing.


You can expect to pull fresh carrots throughout December. If you have strawberries, put on a light straw mulch. Remove it in February. Order seed catalogues. Depending on the soil test, I will add fertilizers before each crop is planted, including the cover crops. As a rule, I will add 30 gallons of compost per 100 square feet before each crop is planted.

Paramagnetic Rock

Paramagnetic Rock for Increased Plant Growth

By Calvin F. Bey,

What Is Paramagnetic Rock?
Physicists tell us that all matter has an electrical ability to be either attracted or repelled by a magnet. If matter is attracted to a magnet, it is said to be paramagnetic. If the matter is repelled, it is said to be diamagnetic. There are big differences in degree of attraction and repulsion among various materials. The paramagnetic of many elements and compounds can be found in physics handbooks. The actual paramagnetic values of rocks, metals, fertilizers, elements, and soils can be measured with a magnetic meter (called the Phil Callahan Soil Meter), available from Pike Labs (see ).

While many materials are paramagnetic, it is the highly magnetic volcanic rock that is used as the soil additive and conditioner. To understand how it works, think of paramagnetic rock as a conduit for gathering the electro-magnetic energy of the cosmos. In the soil, this "gathering power" sets up a flow of energy from the paramagnetic material to other material that is diamagnetic (e.g. plant material and compost). The higher the soil CGS value, the higher will be the flow of energy. It is this flow of energy that is responsible for increased microbial development and the resulting plant growth. Other paramagnetic materials include charred wood, ash, air, oxygen, water, calcium, potassium, sodium, and soil. . As a rule, the paramagnetic rock is not a provider of minerals for the plants. The values of paramagnetic rock can be as high as 9,000 or more. Paramagnetic rock is sometimes referred to as lava sands. Many soils will have paramagnetic values that are less than 100, with some as low as 25. These will not be highly productive soils. The unit of measure is CGS, (centimeter/grams/second), which is gauss/million, i.e. the measurement of the magnetic flux density.

Most organic molecules, e.g. plants, are diamagnetic. You can actually observe this. Try transplanting very tiny carrot plants, with hair-like roots. As you stick the carrot root into a small hole in the soil, the carrot root actually bends as if attracted by the soil (which is exactly what is taking place).

Soils with high organic matter and high biological activity are usually higher in paramagnetic values. Paramagnetic values can also be increased by correcting the calcium/magnesium ratio (to the 7:1ideal ratio) and raising the oxygen levels in the soil. All the systems in the soil work together. The higher the organic matter in the soil, and the accompanying biological activity, the more effective will be the addition of paramagnetic rock. The following soil paramagnetic readings can serve as a guide:

0-100 = not good soil

100-300= good soil

300-700 = very good soil

700-1,200 = excellent soil

The Value of Paramagnetic Rock: The most important point about paramagnetism is that it contributes to plant growth. Dr. Phil Callahan, the guru in this discipline, says unequivocally, that paramagnetism is required for plant growth. He and others list the values of high paramagnetic soils as increased water retention, increased microbial stimulation, improved nutrient utilization, and something referred to as increased light energy. Other benefits in the soil include increased seed germination and flowering, improved insect resistance, increased frost and drought hardiness, and more earthworms in the soil. It has also been shown to assist in overcoming the effects of toxins (atrazine) in the soil.

Paramagnetic rock can also be beneficial when added to compost piles. It increases the biological activity, which in turn speeds up the rates of decomposition.

Australian agriculture consultant, Graeme Sait, (author of the book Nutrition Rules!)
now tests all his clients' soils for paramagnetic value. If low, he recommends a highly paramagnetic rock. Callahan, in his book, Paramagnetism, writes about the great healing places in the world as being highly paramagnetic. Likewise there are interesting facts connecting paramagnetism to Round Towers in Ireland, as well as at Indian mounds and the Pyramids.

Rates Of Application and Placement: Paramagnetic rock of high quality (CGS 9,000+) is available from Nitron Industries in the Fayetteville, Arkansas area. The rate of application is dependent on the CGS values of paramagnetic rock and the soil to which it is to be applied. For my garden, my goal is to get the paramagnetic value in the 300-700 (very good) range. I have a good soil, and have increased the organic matter content to about 4%, but before adding any paramagnetic rock, the paramagnetic value averaged 85. I did some testing, and by thoroughly mixing paramagnetic rock (with a CGS of 9,000) to an 8-inch depth, with rates of ¼ pound, ½ pound, and 1 pound per square foot, I could raise the CGS values of my garden soil to 250, 475, and 565 respectively. A cup of paramagnetic rock weighs about ½ pound. I have tested many garden soils in the area, and almost all are below 100, with some as low as 25. I have now applied 1 pound per square foot over my entire garden. This may seem like a very high rate, but remember that the magnetic, energy-collecting value remains in place for centuries.

Preliminary testing of paramagnetic rock in my garden showed increased growth of newly set out strawberry plants, and slightly higher brix reading(0.5 ) for tomatoes. Be aware that the effect will likely increase with time. The likely first action in the soil is to increase the microbial activity, which in turn will likely release soil minerals. Paramagnetic rock is not a substitute for minerals, and will likely not fully correct soils that are seriously deficient or out of balance in minerals. However, as the soil improves, the paramagnetic rock will enhance plant growth and fruit production.

For gardens and other areas that can be worked, mix the paramagnetic rock into the top 6-8 inches of soil. The soil does not need to be roto-tilled. You can do the mixing with a garden fork.

For areas where plants are already established, like lawns and trees, simple spread it on the surface. Over time, the soil microbes and earthworms will move it down into the soil where it is most beneficial. By adding compost or mulch, you can increase the earthworm activity and speed up the incorporation process.


Callahan, Phillip S. 1995. Paramagnetism --Rediscovering Nature's Secret Force of Growth. 128 pages. See

Sait, Graeme. 2003. Nutrition Rules! 308 pages. See

Callahan, Phillip S. and others. Paramagnetism Rountable - State of the Art. Tape from 2001 Acres U.S.A. Conference. See .

Garden 2007

Garden 2007
Heirloom "Country Gentleman" Corn