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.

May 13, 2011

Raised Beds and Tilling

Let’s hope that the real cold weather is behind us by April 1, but don’t count on it. Some of you remember the frosty white, 18 degree morning on Easter, April 8, 2008. Remember that our average last spring frost occurs about April 10. If you not yet started, you can still plant all of the spring crops in April. There is also still time to start new beds. One of the first decisions is whether or not to use raised beds.

Raised beds have some real advantages. They are better aerated, they drain better after heavy rains, and warm up faster in the spring. I recommend using 4-foot wide beds, double-dug, with a 2-foot pathway. Coupled with close-spacing, raised beds can make more efficient use of your garden area.

Raised beds are also appropriate if you bring in soil for your stoney site. In either case, you do not need side boards for your beds

(unless the site is on a steep slope.) Raised beds or not, you next need to decide on your method of tilling.

Tillage. After double-digging, and adding a one-inch layer of compost and appropriate minerals (based on a soil test), many gardeners think that the tiller is the next tool to use. It is not necessary to use a tiller and it can be easily argued that it does not fit in the “going sustainable” model. A tiller can actually destroy good soil structure, especially in working heavy soils. In these soils, tilling can decrease the soil water holding capacity. A garden fork is all you need to gently twist-in fertilizers and compost. Using a tiller is somewhat of a guy thing -- a show of macho power and control.

The first question concerning tilling is often, “then how do I control weeds?” Its simple -- mulch and cover crops will take care of most weeds. The photo shows the dense crop of Austrian winter peas and oats, and how it can suppress any weeds. The next question is, “But how do I loosen the soil?” That is primarily the work of of the soil organisms,

Choosing the Right Fertilizer

I often get calls saying, “I am ready to plant, what fertilizer should I use?” That’s an excellent question, but I can’t answer it very well without additional information. I have seen hundreds of soil test reports and it is clear that that gardens are extremely variable in mineral content. Without a soil test report, adding fertilizer is just a guess. Even with a soil test in hand, my recommendation is always, “go slow when adding fertilizers.” This also applies to the use of compost.

The easiest soils to adjust are those where the original mineral contents are slightly low. This is likely to be the case with our native prairie/pasture soils that have not been fertilized. The hardest, and sometimes nearly impossible adjustments, are those soils where the gardener has added excessive amounts of compost and/or certain minerals.

The goal in gardening is to slowly raise the soil organic matter to about 5 percent, and get all of the minerals to an acceptable level. Once you get to that level, high quality compost may be all you need to add to your garden. Your compost quality will only be as good as the material from which it is derived.

Organic fertilizers are available in the area (Nitron Industries and others) and you have options for what to use for the various elements needed for good plant growth and production. Here are some fertilizer recommendations for nitrogen-N, phosphorus-P, potassium-K, calcium-Ca, and boron-B. The percent of the mineral in the fertilizer may vary with source of material. It will specify the amount on the bag. Unless

specified otherwise, the ratios indicate the percent N, P and K in the fertilizer.

Nitrogen: Use alfalfa meal (3-1-2), fish meal (10-2-2), or feather meal (14-0-0).

Phosphorus: Use soft rock phosphate (0-5-0). The 5% is available the first year, and more each year, up to 22%. Soft rock phosphate also contains calcium.

Potassium: Use greensand (0-1-5) or kelp (1-0-8). Many local soils have a near-adequate amount of K.

Calcium: Use high quality calcium carbonate or lime (0-0-0-38 percent Ca). Most local soils will need additional Ca.

Boron: Use Borax, which is 10% boron. Remember this mineral is involved in the plant’s ability to use calcium. For local soils that test zero for boron, add 4 Tablespoons of Borax per 100 square feet.

The advantages of these fertilizers are: (1) they are slow release and provide long-lasting nutrition for good plant growth; (2) they are not detrimental to soil microorganisms, as is the case with some high-salt fertilizers; and (3) they are mostly single element fertilizers, which can be tailored to the specific needs defined by the soil test.

For those wanting information describing how organic systems build soils, check out the recent March 2011 USDA Organic Farming Systems Research Conference. Evidence from long-term studies shows the values of the organic approach for the health of the soil, the plant and the consumers.

Garden 2007

Garden 2007
Heirloom "Country Gentleman" Corn