Backyard Farming (part 2)

I started my farm exactly 2 months ago. Not only have I had a rather comprehensive education, but also several very tasty salads. Twice a week Stefan, the urban farmer who makes it all grow, comes to my house and we garden. Actually, he gardens and I watch, learn and photograph his every move. Despite all that I have learned, if it weren’t for his dedication and vast knowledge, my garden would have gone the way of all my past efforts, to seed! We have had good days and bad, fighting the creatures that love to feast on organic produce and having to contend with lackluster soil. It seems that much of organic gardening is being on the defensive against these things. There are no chemicals to prevent them from happening so we just have to deal with it as it comes.

Here are some tricks I’ve learned from Stefan:

May 19, 2009:

Stefan arrived wearing a long face and carrying an arsenal of organic fertilizers. Because this is the pilot year of the backyard harvest program they were unsure of the virility of the soil that they laid down. To put it mildly, it sucked! It was literally sucking the life out of the plants, as opposed to giving it. According to Stefan it lacked NPK (Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). Each of these adds to the promotion of healthy plants:

(N) Nitrogen – energizes the plants growth and green color (we knew it was lacking because the leaves were turning purple.)

(P) Phosphorus – helps the plants produce healthy roots, flowers and seeds.

(K) Potassium – makes the plants more heat and disease resistant.

He also added a liquid bat guano that gave the garden a serious boost of NP and would absorb faster than the dried fertilizer. We were in desperate need of nutrients.

May 28, 2009:

taking care of the critters

That week the baby bunnies were out testing our fencing. The fence worked and our plants went untouched by them. My neighbor, who was fenceless was not so lucky.

That is not to say that we were untouched by ALL nasty pests. Here is a fine example of a cut worm, the most annoying of all the garden dwellers. They live under the soil, come up at night, wrap themselves around the base of young plants and cut their way through the stalk. You know that you have cut worms if you have leaves laying on the ground next to the stalk. It is like they have little machetes.

Stefan consulted “the old timers” who have been gardening organically “forever” and know all of the tricks. They suggested that he put skewers in the soil next to the stalk of the plant so that the cut worms can’t wrap themselves around the base. So Stefan did just that and it worked.

He also planted some beans.

June 2, 2009:

Stefan thinned out the very crowded rows of lettuce with a pair of shears.

He also staked the pea vines with branches of a dogwood tree. The peas need something to cling onto so they will grow up and not lay on the ground.

June 9, 2009:

Look at the beans go, after only 1 1/2 weeks.

Stefan and the boys inspect a giant bucket of Llama dung. Stefan used it to fertilize the areas where the tomatoes and peppers will be planted.

Despite looking like and being POOP, it didn’t smell like it. Thankfully.

He planted cilantro, peppers, tomatoes, dinosaur kale and basil.

June 14, 2009:

Charlie checking the progress of his sunflowers.

The peas are flowering, which means we will get pods soon.

Stefan found the caterpillars from white months on the broccoli.

The only way to get rid of them is to go around and pick them and their eggs off the leaves. The eggs are the size of a sesame seed and nearly translucent. Not an easy job. Thank goodness Stefan is here to make sure my garden survives all of this.

June 16, 2009:

My first radish harvest, aren’t they gorgeous and they were the best I’ve ever eaten.

Here is my first harvest basket of salad greens, the first nasturtium flower and radishes.

June 23, 2009:

Here is the garden as of today!

The beans are going nuts.

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22 thoughts to “Backyard Farming (part 2)”

  1. I can see it, you have caught the grow your own bug! Once you get used to the fresh picked flavor of produce grown in your own back yard, it’s hard to go back to buying it, especially tomatoes.

  2. Loved gardening up in your backyard Zoe. What an amazing post. Good of you to document & share it. Loved the hands on experience the boys got…they are ever so cute!My lad loves stuff like this too, & often watches me tinkering around in our little patch!

  3. Where can I get my own Stefan? Can I pick him at the next farmer’s market? Does Oklahoma even carry Stefan’s or am I going to have do some travelling to find one?

  4. Hi Everyone,

    I highly recommend that you find yourself a Stefan, although there may be no match for the original!

    When I posted this on Twitter, Stefan got an invitation to Italy! I’ve never had such an invite! 😉


  5. I feel like I’m learning so much from your Stefan just reading your posts. I love the idea of staking pea vines to branches, and using skewers to thwart the cutworms.

  6. This is awesome! Way to go! Thank you for sharing the story and pictures with us, I throughly enjoyed it and learned a bit, too.

  7. Great progress. It looks like a lot of hard work and I’m happy that you are getting some ‘goods’ from your efforts. Makes me appreciate my patio pots and lack of work to make them grow (but at the same time- i have back-yard envy!)

  8. Hi Zoë, I met you at the consultation (I’m one of the BH interns). I’m so happy to see that your garden is making a comeback, it looks wonderful in the second to last photo. Thanks for the educational blog post, too!


  9. I love the organic gardening tips you’re sharing. My husband does most of the gardening here so in a way I do have my own Stefan, but my version doesn’t have all of the gardening knowledge that yours does.
    That first photo of him makes me think of a younger James Taylor. The rest of the photos of him don’t look so much like JT. I love JT!

  10. Absolutely inspiring…your radishes look lovely…and so fresh, you can almost feel the crunch in the picture.
    So happy for you.

  11. Actually BT, which is fully organic and safe for humans and pets takes care of all the worm families. I’ve never been successful keeping up with finding all of them and lost enough plants to give up on many varieties. This year we tried the BT and it works. I spray everything down once a week with a hand spray bottle and poof, the little buggers eat a bit, and then they die. I also inject it inside the base stalks of my zucchini because there is a worm that gets inside and destroys the plant.

  12. finally getting a chance to catch up on my backlog of zoebakes. It is fun to garden vicariously through you. I have stuck with herbs in pots! on the other hand, I’ve learned that my 4 yr old loves baking so I’m going to be scouring your archives. happy 4th 🙂

  13. I love edible flowers, such fun and color! My herb pots aren’t doing as well this year, every year is different! Some day a real garden! Fun stuff!

  14. Actually, nitrogen deficiency shows up as a yellowing of the leaves. They lack the deep green chlorophyll coloring.

    Purplish leaves can be symptomatic of several deficiencies, the most common being manganese, a “trace” element. If you can find a tub of Nurseryman’s or Citrus Grower’s Mix (try Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Grass Valley CA–they ship to organic market gardeners nationwide–they have it I believe) it contains all the trace or “minor” elements like zinc, iron, copper, calium, manganese, boron, and magnesium. Sometimes you can find a good packaged organic-source blend fertilizer that will have these trace elements included.

    If you are serious about organic gardening, there is no better source for information than Rodale Press, which pioneered Organic Gardening publishing back in the 1940’s. Their Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is the ‘bible’ of many an organic gardener. “All things explained”.

    Good luck on your 2010 garden!

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