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 17, 2012

Heirloom Tomatoes and Fall Squash

Never count Mother Nature out to do some amazing things. In my organic garden, I like to try new things.  Last spring someone (I don’t remember who) gave me two heirloom tomato plants (unnamed).  They were weak plants, but purportedly a fine tomato, so I  transferred them to one-gallon pots and in a couple weeks (mid May) set them out in the garden.  

I could soon see they were going to be vigorous growers with prolific flowering.  Per my expectation, they set fruit and soon  ripened.  By the first of July, I had ripe tomatoes.  Then came the heat and drought.  I watered regularly and amazingly, the plants never shut down.  I picked tomatoes every week, recording all production.  From the two plants, I counted every tomato.  They continued to produce until the heavy freeze on October 27.    The total count was 4030 tomatoes, just over 100 pounds per plant.  Twenty five percent of the production came in October.    

The story gets even better.  In early July I took a cutting from one plant, rooted it in water, potted it up (see picture), and at end of July, on a 100 degree day, set it out in the garden.   By October 27 th, I had picked 600 tomatoes from that 6-foot tall plant.   

I have now taken cuttings from that plant, and will root them, pot them, and keep them inside until spring.  From those plants, in March, I will root more cuttings, put them in pots, and in late April plant them in the garden.   I will do the same with an unusually nice heirloom “ox-heart” tomato.  

Patty pan and butternut squash.  Another late summer experiment and success, despite the heat, was patty pan and butternut squash.  I planted in mid-July, right in the middle of the terrible heat.  The idea of late planting was to be out of sync with the squash bugs.  I did a little spraying for squash bug deterrence with a clove oil spray, and had good success with both varieties.  I harvested patty pan from early September until mid October.  In late October, I harvested some very nice butternut squash.

The problem with any late production, besides the threat of an early freeze, is the difficulty of getting a fall cover crop established.  One way to solve it is to sprinkle oats or Austrian winter peas directly into the squash beds in mid to late Sept.  Other cover crops, like wheat or rye, could be planted as late as mid October.

I attribute much of the success of this fall garden to having a healthy soil, meaning that it is alive with beneficial bacteria and fungi.  That ought to be the starting point for all organic gardeners.  Let the ways of Mother Nature be the model.   Start by avoiding application of all toxins (chemical fertilizers and pesticides.)

September 4, 2012

“Soil Health” as Defined by USDA NRCS 
Prepared by Calvin F. Bey

Soil health, and how it can be improved, is or should be of huge importance to gardeners and farmers today.  It is important because the health of many soils have been compromised by applying chemicals, plus we still have serious soil erosion problems in the United States and throughout the world.

USDA takes this soil health problem seriously.  USDA NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service, i.e. the old Soil Conservation Service) has defined what “healthy soil” means, and what steps it takes to develop the same.   These simple steps are appropriate advice for small organic gardeners, and for farmers with large acreages. 

From the NRCS publication soil health is defined as “the capacity of the soil to function.”  The functions of the soil include; water infiltration, recycling nutrients, and providing water and nutrients to feed the plants.  In what follows, everything from the NCRS publication is in quotes and is highlighted.  

So how do we improve soil health?  According to NRCS, “managing for soil health can be improved by disturbing the soil as little as possible, growing many different species of plants in the soil as often as possible, keeping living plants in the soil as often as possible, and keeping the soil covered all the time.”  

These practices are  generally used by organic/natural/biological gardeners and farmers.  The practices are neither magical or mystical.  They are the same natural processes that that gave us  the deep rich prairie soils and the forest soils that grow 300 foot redwoods.  They are practices that are in harmony with nature, not chemicals and artificial practices that often work against development of healthy soils.  They are practices that are urgently needed to heal the earth now.   

1.   Disturb Soil Less.   From NRCS, “Tilling the soil is the equivalent of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, and forest fire occurring simultaneously to the world of soil.  Simply stated, tillage is bad for the soil.” 

There are plenty of examples of successful no-till gardens.  I have never used a tiller in my garden.  Tilling destroys soil structure and decreases soil water holding capacity.   It reduces the natural biological life and in the end reduces productivity.  

2.  Grow Diverse Crops.  Growing many different species of plants, over time and space, increases the number and varieties of soil microbial populations and is an insurance program against disease and pest problems.   Sugars, made from the diversity of plants, are released from plant roots into the soil.  In the soil, the sugars serve as food for soil microbes, which in turn decompose organic matter into nutrients that support plant growth.  Its simply the way the natural soil development process works.  

3.  Grow Living Roots Throughout The Year.   NRCS says, “Healthy soil is dependent upon how well the soil food web is fed.”  Providing plenty of sugars that exude from live roots means easily accessible food for soil microbes.  The thrust is about maintaining a suitable habitat for the myriad of soil food web creatures.  These microscopic and macroscopic individuals, working day and night, essentially control soil development.  One teaspoon of healthy soil can easily contain more individuals than there are people on earth.  Its clear: we need to be gentle and kind to the soil.   

4.  Keep the Soil Covered.  NRCS says, “Soil should always be covered by growing plants and/or their residues, and soil should rarely be visible from above.”  Soil cover protects the soil aggregates from beatings by the rain, suppresses weeds, keeps the soil cool and moist, and promotes soil microbial activity.  

From personal experience, I know that following these four steps will lead to soils that are fluffy and mellow, easy to work, and productive.  The fact that USDA recommends these practices should be a clear signal for all gardeners to switch from the chemical to the natural/healthy approach.  The chemical  approaches simply are not the way to develop healthy soils.   In the end, a healthy soils is really about healthy plants, healthy produce and healthy consumers.  That applies to all of us and and all consumers and that’s important.   

Another important point for more effective gardening, not included in the NRCS publication, is mineral and nutrient management.   This is a hefty topic in itself, and deserves its own time and place. 

Reference:  USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.  November 2011.  Farming in the 21st Century, A practical approach to improve Soil Health.  Developed by the Soil Quality National Technology Development Team with contributions from North Dakota NRCS.  


August 20, 2012

Fall Cover Crops  --  Simple and Useful

It is almost time to plant your fall cover crops.  Those who have adopted this simple practice know that it is as essential as adding fertilizer.  It is easy to do, and for a few dollars worth of seed most can do their whole garden.  For Master Gardeners in Washington County, AR, see me at September  MG meeting for oats and Austrian winter pea seed in small packets.  

Cover crops are grown to provide soil protection and improvement. In the process, they serve to; add organic mater and nutrients, improve tilth, reduce erosion, improve crop vigor, and control weeds.  Cover crops are the backbone of any annual cropping system that seeks to be sustainable.  

Cover Crops To Use for the Fall.  There are many choices on what to use.  Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply lists 52 cover crops, each with a slightly different  characteristics.  I have settled on two cover crops for the fall -- Oats and Austrian Winter Peas.  Both do well in the area. They can be planted together, but they have different purposes, so I suggest using one or the other.  See November photo above --  peas on left, oats on right.

Austrian winter peas, when planted in the fall, will grow rapidly and make a nice cover in a short time. When it freezes, they will partially die back, but then resume growth again in February.  If you let them grow in the spring, by mid May they will have flowered and produced a lot of organic matter, while fixing nitrogen on their roots. At that time, the peas can be cut off or pulled up, and be ready to go to the compost pile, or used as a garden mulch. 

If you have a healthy soil (i.e. have not used a lot of chemicals), you will likely have Rhizobia bacteria present in the soil.  This is required for the bacteria to fix nitrogen on the pea roots.  If  not, add a Rhizobia inoculant.  

 Caution:  If you wait and plant oats too late in the fall, you will not get a good stand, and plants will be weak in the spring.  Plant peas by September 15 for best results.  

Oats also grows rapidly and covers the soil quickly.  It does not fix nitrogen, but it is good for extracting phosphorus from the soil and making it available for the subsequent crops. It makes a heavy cover, shades out winter weeds, looks attractive, and generally dies back completely with very hard freezes (below 20 degrees).  It is  the choice cover crop for garden beds where spring crops are to be grown.  

Early to mid September is a good time to plant oats.  You want the plants to grow two feet or more, but not go to seed.  Normally, by end of February the plants will have died, and the root systems will be partially decomposed.  It takes very little effort to remove the oats cover in the spring.  The stems and leaves can be used as  mulch.  Caution:  Oats planted in October will stay green longer in the winter and may not die back in the spring.

Seeding rates:  For oats, 1 pound per 1,000 square feet.   For the Peas, 2 pounds per 1000 square feet.

March 8, 2012

          Growing Nutrient Dense Vegetables 
What are Nutrient Dense Vegetables?   Certain kinds of vegetables have more nutrients than others, and some people refer to these vegetables as being nutrient dense.  That is not what I am talking about.  By nutrient dense, I mean the high mineral content for any given vegetable variety.  
A nutrient density index can be measured with a refractometer.  It measures the sugar/mineral content in units called “BRIX.”  It’s an easy process that involves extracting a few drops of plant juice, from either the leaves or the fruit.  When BRIX levels are high, the minerals are abundant, taste is superb, shelf life is extended, insect and disease problems are greatly reduced, and the plants are more winter hardy. 
You cannot assume that your produce will have a high brix reading, just because it looks good.  Only by doing a BRIX test (or other expensive type of nutrient analysis) will you know the nutrient density value for your produce.  Here is an example with green beans of why the nutrient density issue is so critical.  It was reported in June, 2007 Acres U.S.A. magazine by Jon Frank.  
Rating            Sample #1      Sample #2
Brix Rating 4.2 6.1
Dry Matter 8.1% 16.6%
Protein 1.75 g 3.34 g
Calcium 70mg               130 mg
Magnesium 30mg                 50 mg
Phosphorus 40mg 80 mg

Potassium 190mg               580 mg
Copper 0.1 mg 0.4 mg
Iron 1.3 mg 2.1 mg
Zinc 0.7 mg 2.3 mg
Manganese 0.29 mg               0.35 mg 
Obviously, just going from Brix readings of 4.2 to 6.1 made a big difference in nutrition.  For green beans, ratings of 4 and 6 would be considered poor and average.  Moving up to 8 or 12 would certainly make some additional gains.  Much of the commercial, store-bought produce that I have tested is in the poor range.   
High Brix readings means greater mineral density; but also (1) greater carbohydrates, (2) increased shelf life, (3) increased insect and disease resistance, and (4) improved taste.  

Why is Nutrient Density Important?   The nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables is not a new concern.  75 years ago, USDA alerted the public to the declining quality of produce, actually reading an article into the Congressional Record, Senate Document 264.  In 1941, the government passed the Public Health Law, which permitted food enrichment.   By 1946, we had the National School Lunch Program, derived in part from observations of physical and mental deficiencies in WWII recruits.  
In the 1930’s, a Cleveland dentist, Weston A. Price (1870-1948), began a series of investigations.  Having observed that teeth 22and oral health problems were increasing in the United States, he traveled to isolated parts of the globe to study the teeth and health of 14 primitive groups untouched by Western civilization.  After 10 years of study, he concluded that teeth problems are due to nutritional deficiencies, not inherited genetic effects.  
Table  2.  Percentages of Teeth Affected by Caries in Primitive and Modernized Groups
  Primitive        Modernized
Swiss 4.60 29.8
Gaelics 1.20 30.0
Eskimos 0.09 13.0
Northern Indians 0.16 21.5
Seminole Indians 4.00 40.0
Melanesians 0.38 29.0
Polynesians 0.32 21.9
Africans 0.20   6.8
Australians Aborigines 0.00 70.9
New Zeland Maori 0.01 55.3
Malays 0.09 20.6
Coastal Peruvians 0.04 40.0
High Andes Indians 0.00 40.0
Amazon Jungle Indians 0.00 40.0
From Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  1939.
In comparison to American diets of the day, Dr. Price found that the diets of 13 primitive groups provided at least 4 times the water soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least 10 times the fat-soluble vitamins, from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish, organ meats, eggs and animal fats.   
Dr. Price published his research in the book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in 1939.  Many consider his treatise the single most important work on human nutrition and dietary health ever written.  In 1999, Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig took all of the Price information and published a resource/cook book called Nourishing Traditions.   We have this book available for $25.00.
Organic Gardening Practices.   The practices and products that you use in organic gardening will be different than what are used in conventional gardening practices.  The touchstone practices generally used in organic/eco-agriculture include the use of compost, cover crops, and rock minerals.  Other practices are necessary to produce the ideal system and the production of nutrient-dense produce.  Certified organic gardeners will be using only products that are OMRI approved.  
It’s a mistake to think that the organic/eco-agriculture system is simply an old fashioned farming model.  Though it may include older methods, it also includes ecological understanding, close observation, and a concern for the entire plant/soil environment. It’s based on solid research and time tested practices. 
Be aware that the general guidelines, practices, and products suggested are not a guarantee to gardening success.   The following guidelines and practices are aimed at developing soil conditions that will eventually give high yields of nutrient dense produce.   
1.  Gradually increase the soil organic matter to  4 or 5 percent..  Have the soil organic matter tested.  Most soils will be at the 1-2% level.  Increased organic matter will reduce erosion, increase water holding capacity, increase aeration, and provide the plants with nutrients. 
A.  Use organic matter sparingly and wisely.  Add compost before planting every crop, i.e. 2 to 3 times a year.  After the first application of about 50 gallons per 100sf (with double-digging); then use about 20 gallons/100 square feet.  For high quality compost or vermicompost, use about half the suggested rate.
B.  Keep the soil covered at all times.  This cover can be a vegetable or fruit crop, a mulch, a nitrogen fixing crop in the summer, or a fall cover crop.  This is essential to building up the soil organic matter and in keeping the soil biologically active.
C.  Grow crops specifically for deep root penetration and/or specifically for high carbon.
2.  Increase the biological activity in the soil.  Treat and feed the soil to promote growth of bacteria and fungi.  Soil microbes will work tirelessly for you.  They are the digestive system, and will feed the crop.  Use dry molasses to promote growth of bacteria.
A.  Develop deep, well aerated beds.   Double-dig and get compost deep into the soil profile. Make raised beds. 
B.  Use minimum tillage.  There is no need for power tools in small gardens.  There is evidence that roto-tilling is hard on the beneficial microbes (especially mycorrhizal fungi), and that tilling, especially in heavy soils, can destroy soil structure.  Avoid compaction of the garden beds.  Do not step on the garden beds.  Good aeration in the soil is essential for good biological activity. 
C.  Keep the soil moist throughout the year.  The microbes need moisture to survive and multiply.
D.  Add microbes, and products that promote biological activity, e.g. carbon compounds, humic acid, dry molasses, enzymes, fish hydrolysates, seaweed, compost teas, and kelp.
3.  Re-mineralize the soil.  Start with a soil test.
A. Select the correct fertilizers.  Understand the difference between those that promote vegetative growth and those that promote flowers/fruit production.  
B.  Use only organic (generally slow release) fertilizers.  Organic meals like feather, blood, cottonseed, and alfalfa meals are all acceptable, primarily for sources of nitrogen.  Hard or soft rock phosphate is a good source of P.  Kelp or green sand is a good source of K.  
C.  Be sure the nutrient levels meet certain levels and certain ratios.  Many in eco-agriculture today use the Carey Reams ratios.   (We spend two hours on soils, soil testing and  and correct fertilization in my Organic Gardening class.  Too much to cover here.)
D.  Add sea minerals, sea water concentrate, rock dust, Azomite, etc. to get all the micro-nutrients.  
E.   Strive for soil pH of 6.4.  If needed, use a high quality source of calcium carbonate to increase the calcium level and the pH. 
F.  Use organic foliar sprays for fine tuning of the nutrient needs.
4.  Use crop rotation, companion planting, and bio-pesticides for management of harmful insects and diseases.  Insects are not attracted to healthy plants.  The chemical or synthetic pesticides are detrimental to the soil microbes and are not allowed for certified organic production. 
5.  Engage the natural energy forces of the cosmos.  Use paramagnetic rock as a conduit for gathering energy in the soil to promote increased growth, increased insect and disease resistance, frost hardiness, plus a longer shelf life and improved taste in all the produce.  

Garden 2007

Garden 2007
Heirloom "Country Gentleman" Corn