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Archive for the ‘Growing’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Growing Tender Celery

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI’m fairly new at celery as this is only my third year growing it. I guess that’s because I’m not the biggest fan of it. It’s got its place but it’s just not a vegetable I use that often. Tom likes it better than I do so we figured we’d give it a try. Of course our last two years were filled with tough, stringy stalks because I was a beginning celery grower and didn’t know what the tricks were.


One of the tricks to growing tender celery is to give it a lot of water. Well, I live in California where it doesn’t rain throughout the summer. I’d feel terribly guilty if I had to dump a bunch of our precious water on the celery just to have tender stalks. One of the things I’ve noticed while growing celery is that it doesn’t come out with nice, thick, upright stalks that are all clustered together in the center. It’s more spreading and shrub like. But dumping water on it doesn’t seem to solve the problem of short stalks, does it? No, really, I’m asking because I haven’t tried dumping a bunch of water on celery.


There is another option though for producing tender celery. A farmer taught me about a trick they use for growing celery. Blanching the stalks with these rectangular cylinders that you slide over the plant. It keeps sunlight from reaching the stalks while forcing the plant to grow straight and bunched, which makes them thick and tender. You can buy these special cylinders or you can use half gallon milk cartons with the tops and bottoms cut off. We don’t drink commercial milk so that wasn’t really an option for us. Instead we used cardboard and the ubiquitous duct tape.


The process was pretty easy. Just cut 18″x8″ rectangular pieces of cardboard and then fold them in half. Fold each half in half again so that when it stands up you’ve got an 8″ tall cylinder.


Duct tape the seam closed. That’s it. Super simple.


The celery should be about as tall as the cylinder or a bit shorter. You just want the leaves popping out of the top. Grab the plant pulling all of the stalks together and slide the cardboard tube over them. Now just wait for the plant to be ready for harvest.


Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: Household Items You Can Use in the Garden

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015


The following tips for frugal gardeners are not only quick, safe, and easy, but also involve using items you probably already have in your house.

ASPIRIN: Dissolve ¾ of an uncoated aspirin tablet in 1 gallon of water. Spray plants every 2-3 weeks with the mixture to prevent fungus problems, including powdery mildew and black spot. It’s also been found to help some plants yield more fruit than using commercial fertilizers.

baking-sodaBAKING SODA: Mix 1 Tbsp of baking soda and a ½ tsp liquid soap into 1 gallon of water. Spray this weekly on plants that are prone to powdery mildew. This works as more of a preventative, as it won’t do much after the powdery mildew has taken hold. Make sure to spray the undersides of leaves. Also, apply it in the evening if you can, as it can burn some leaves.

BEER: Put beer (or water with yeast in it) in a shallow container. Sink the container so that the lip is at ground level in the garden. The beer attracts snails and slugs. They’ll fall into it and drown.

BORAX: This is a common laundry additive (20 Mule Team is a popular brand), especially for those of us with hard water. But it also works as a nontoxic ant killer. Ants are a huge problem for us as they “farm” aphids and mealy bugs for their honeydew. We have tons of ladybugs but they are useless if the ants are protecting the pests.

CORNMEAL: Corn Gluten Meal can be used as an effective pre-emergent herbicide, but most of us don’t have that just laying around. Cornmeal, however, is an effective soil fungicide. For every 100 square feet, work 2 pounds of cornmeal into the soil. Water well. One application per season is all that is needed.

DRYER SHEETS: If you’re having a picnic or BBQ and are being plagued by yellow jackets, aka meat bees, and mosquitoes, place dryer sheets around the area to deter them.


EGGSHELLS: Save all of your eggshells! Rinse them and then crush them when they are dry. When preparing a planting bed for tomatoes or peppers add the eggshells (approximately the shells from 1 dozen eggs per plant) to the planting hole to avoid blossom end rot.



EPSOM SALTS: Epsom salts contain sulfur and magnesium and are good for using as a foliar fertilizer. Dissolve 2 Tbsp Epsom Salts in 1 gallon of water. Mist plants as a foliar feeding.

MILK: Dilute milk in a 1:1 ratio with water. Spray your tomato and pepper plants weekly to avoid blossom end rot.

RUBBING ALCOHOL: Apply 70% isopropyl alcohol to a cotton ball and apply to scale insects. The alcohol desiccates them. Rub them off when they’re dead so you can continue to monitor their levels.

SHAMPOO: Mix 2.5 Tbsp Shampoo and 2.5 Tbsp cooking oil with 1 gallon of water. Spray insect pests with the mixture to control them. Do not use in full sun, and a few hours after application, rinse the plant off to reduce injury.

If you have other tips on using household items in your garden, please share them!


Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer’s Advice for Dealing with Climate Change and the Urgent Sense of Impending Doom

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015


Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

  • Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
  • My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
  • Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
  • Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
  • Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
  • Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.


I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.


As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.


Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.


I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.


HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.