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.

March 22, 2009

The Organic Gardening F. A. S. T. E. R. Introduction

As you begin your gardening activities this year, I encourage you to switch in the direction of using practices that are more organic, more nutrient-dense for vegetables, and more sustainable. This article sets the stage for gardening with some general conceptual material. F.A.S.T.E.R. is simply the acronym for the key words in my 2009 organic gardening course introduction. It sets the stage for sharing of ecological principles and organic gardening practices.

F is for Forgiveness.
In regards to gardening, it is the direction you are headed that is really important, not how organic or sustainable your practices have been in the past. Though we are all at different points on the "organic scale," comparisons are unnecessary. I like to think of everyone at the same starting line. Forget the past and think about the future. Don't feel guilty if you have not used organic gardening practices in the past. Forgive yourself of past practices; don't live with the past as a burden, and save your energy for increased efforts in your new and/or continuing goals.

A is for Adventure. Think and practice organic gardening as an adventure. It is an adventure that includes learning, discovery, surprises, Laws of Nature, sharing, fun, community building, and more. Organic gardening is not a "project" like washing the car, with a definite beginning and ending point. It is complex, diverse and often challenging. The adventure develops it own persona, it pulses with the moon and the seasons, and it never ends. For us the gardeners, it is about our development and relationship to Nature. The adventure is meant to be enjoyed.

S is for Soil.
Organic gardening is built on the premise of the development of a healthy soil. I like to say that organic garden is all about health care. From that healthy soil, comes healthy plants, healthy produce and healthy consumers. The journey though the various stages will vary in time, space, and complexity of the gardening practices, but there is no substitute for the building of the proper foundation of a healthy soil.

T is for Time.
The time for converting to organics is now, not later. There is a real urgency. Soil is a finite resource. Yes, it can be developed, but it continues to be depleted and polluted. For the US, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service reports that we are still losing soil at the rate of almost 1 percent per year. Our average original top soil depth of 20 inches is now down to 7 inches, and at current erosion rates will be 3.5 inches in 100 years. Our average original soil organic matter content of 5 to 10 percent is now less than 2 percent. In Arkansas, it now averages 1.25 percent. The well being and standard of living for our civilization is directly dependent on this finite soil resource. Bluntly stated, continued depletion and pollution will lead to the collapse of our civilization as we now know it. It's happened in other places and it can happen here. The clock is ticking.

E is Everything Else.
After the stated urgency and focus on the development of a healthy soil, everything else is details. Paying attention to the details is important. In organic gardening there are some substitution practices and self-correcting systems, but if we don't pay attention to the details, we can find ourselves working against the Laws of Nature, rather than with them. For example, when working for the ultimate goal of producing nutrient dense produce, all the soil nutrient amounts and ratios need to be correct. The numbers are not right until all the numbers are right.

R is for Rewards. The rewards for being an organic gardener are as diverse and complex as the gardening is itself. They begin with the self-satisfaction that you are being gentle on the land. They come with the feeling of being a cooperator with Nature, and as you begin to understand that in Nature the default position is Health. The rewards come with new understandings of natural relationships and in the sharing of new knowledge. The rewards are there when your bare hands are covered with soil, and when you bite into the first-pulled carrot or when you sit down with friends to enjoy fresh sweet corn. They come in unexpected times and places.

March 7, 2009

Calcium: More than a Soil Sweetener

Calcium (Ca), number 20 in the Periodic Table, is the element that we think about when our soil is acidic (pH is low) and it needs some sweetening. Lime (calcium carbonate) is the usual material for this correction. Yet Ca is much more than a bag of lime for a soil with a sweet tooth. In the first place, Ca is not the only element that sweetens the soil and raises the pH. Magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), and sodium (Na) are also positive ions that also serve in a similar capacity. Soils can be high in K and Na, and give a high pH, and be deficient in Ca. Soil pH is technically the measure of the hydrogen ion concentration, which is really a reciprocal of the calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium ions.

Why is Ca often called the king of the nutrients by the holistic eco-gardeners? It's the king because it is so prevalent in plant tissue, and so vital in many of the growth and development processes in plants. In short, it is involved in plant membrane permeability, cell wall structure, enzyme activities, and in interaction with photohormones. Like every element that a plant needs, Ca does not act strictly on its own. Ca must be in the correct amount and in the correct ratio with other elements for the production of nutrient-dense produce.

One important ratio is that of the nutrients of Ca and Mg. Strive for a ratio of 7:1 or slightly greater. Too much Ca will cause Mg, phosphorous and minor element deficiency. Too much Mg results in compacted soils, and phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen deficiencies. Another little fact; without boron, Ca uptake and utilization is inhibited. If your soil tests show that no boron is present, add borax to bring it up to the 4 pounds per acre level.

All "liming" materials are not alike. If you are adding lime, choose one that fits your garden soil needs. Don't count on all local suppliers of lime to understand the differences. Read the labels. Of several "liming" materials that are available, here are the percent averages of the various elements.


High calcium limestone 38 % Ca

Dolomite 22% Ca 14%Mg

Epsom salt – Magnesium sulfate 10% Mg 14% Sulfur

Calcium sulfate – Gypsum 22% Ca 18% Sulfur

Sul-Po-Mag 11% Mg 9% Sulfur 21% Potassium

On your Soil Test Report, the Estimated Base Exchange (%) is given, but rarely explained or used by gardeners. It refers to the soil's ability to hold plant nutrients. This is called the Cation Exchange Capacity, and it is the relative amounts of Ca, Mg, K, and Na, ions held in the soil. For those elements, I like to see numbers of 68, 12, 5, and 1 percent, respectively. Generally, when you get to these levels, your soil pH will be in the ideal area of 6.4. That is a slightly acidic soil, in which the microorganism are fully active and the plants are able to use the elements.

Fixing the Ca levels is just one step in the balancing of nutrients for your soil. I start by looking at the pounds per acre of Ca, and the ratio of Ca:Mg. Then, if needed, I decide what "liming" fertilizer is best for the situation. The process is often not a simple formula or cookie-cutter approach. I try to error on the side of adding too little rather than too much. The processes of Nature are complex and corrective, always striving to adjust the soil that leads to healthy plants. Of course that is done most effectively when the soil is free of toxic chemicals. Making the soil amendment adjustments slowly puts me in the camp of working with Nature, not acting like I am the one in control. In the long run, that strategy gives the best results.

If you are inclined to use the organic approach and are confused about what to do, how to interpret soil tests, etc, feel free to contact me. I'll do my best to help.

Garden 2007

Garden 2007
Heirloom "Country Gentleman" Corn