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

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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.

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!

Garden 2007

Garden 2007
Heirloom "Country Gentleman" Corn