Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crops of Truth and Food Fascism

Men have never been individually self-sufficient.
Reinhold Niebuhr

No one can whistle a symphony.
H.E. Luccock

The food and agriculture organization data tells us that we produce food for 12 billion people, but there are only 6.3 billion people living. Meanwhile, 800 million suffer from malnutrition and hunger, 1.7 billion suffer from obesity, and the rate of diabetes is growing exponentially along with cardiovascular diseases caused by malnutrition. Now, the logic in which consumption must be fast is taking us from a point of wasteful abundance to a terminal point. Every day we hear about water shortages, excessive use of chemical fertilizers and infertile soils, the loss of biodiversity, huge oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, storm flooding, global warming – the entire ecosystem threatened!

Successful forms of community based local agriculture have fed much of the world for thousands of years while conserving ecological integrity, and continue to do so today in many parts of the world. However, technological interventions sold by global corporations as panaceas for solving problems of “inefficiency in small-scale production”, and supposedly world hunger, have had exactly the opposite effect.

The small but enlightening book Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed declares that food has become the place for fascism to act. This fascism is seen where the seed is patented and turned into the monopoly property of a handful of corporations. Ninety-five percent of GM seeds are controlled by one corporation, called Monsanto. Monsanto then uses the fictitious democracy that created the World Trade Organization and the financial conditionalities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to force people everywhere to give up their seed freedom, give up biodiversity, and deny the richness of our natural resources.

See a map of the countries that have adopted the use of GM seeds:
An article by Colin Tudge of the New Statesman looks at the realities of why our current conventional agricultural models and GM seeds are not oriented towards helping to solve the most important issues of food security in our communities. Read that article online.
It amazed me to learn that of the tens of thousands of food species nature offers humankind, we are relying on a dwindling few: a mere eight crops now supply three/quarters of the world’s food! India had 100,000 varieties of rice just 40 years ago. Today, with much difficulty, one may get seeds for 50 varieties.
If you check Monsanto's website, they will boast the supposedly 118 percent increase in profit for Indian farmers planting GM seeds over traditional seeds. They report a 64 percent increase in yield and a 25 percent reduction in pesticide costs. Yet, in the midst of all this success, over 150,000 farmers in India were driven to suicide. Behind each death there is a ghastly story of GM/hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, loans, and indebtedness.

Avian Flu Awareness Poster
We need to look deeply at the issue of food safety: take the avian flu for example. it is identified with wild birds and free range birds, but that is not where it started. These birds developed a disease that emerged from factory farms. Yet instead of addressing the breeding ground of the disease, we have people around the world in moon suits going out and grabbing chickens from women's backyards to kill them. That is another element of food fascism - the fear of the local, the small, the decentralized, the free. But Nutrition does not come from the factories of trans-national corporations; it comes from Mother Nature.

In India, there are plants called "Crops of truth". These plants, given by Nature, do not need any additional inputs to grow. One simply has to broadcast the seed and in time reap a nutritious harvest. In fact, crops of truth, or local crops, abound everywhere! These are hardy genes, evolved over centuries. It is important that these crops of truth are protected from the "GM buccaneers". The women of Zaheerabad have done just that because they are mothers. Women have taken over what used to be the male role of managing the household seed stock because “Men wanted to store fewer seeds and preferred to buy from the market, where as women want all sorts of seeds for all sorts of food that the family eats". They have a very simple contraption to store seeds. A basket, about two feet in diameter by eighteen inches deep, is plastered with cow dung. When it dries, seeds are placed in it, covered with grass and then with cow dung. This simple contraption protects all their seeds and hardly costs a few rupees.

Unless local communities work to preserve local seeds, especially indigenous seeds of crops that are highly nutritious and tasty and can be grown at low or no cost, and no energy input, we shall cease to exist as a viable society. Remember that low or no cost and no energy input implies that there will be minimal or no CO2 emission from such farming activities.

The community is the most important entity that can help us ensure food and nutrition security and deal with common issues. It is important to realize that we can not separate human rights from right to seeds and food as well as right to grow food for our consumption. Most people in the west have forgotten that access to food is a basic human right; they have been misled to believe that that right can only be exercised in a supermarket run by Wal Mart or Tesco. We all can exercise this human right by refusing to purchase engineered and manufactured food and by claiming our right to grow any food that Nature gave us. It is important to inform our political representatives that the basic human right to food [and water, and air, and forests, and rivers, seeds, reproduction] is a fundamental right which no living entity, no corporation, and no state should be allowed to expropriate. And we have presumed to do just that all over the world.

The local economy is the only one that allows for the realization of what is becoming an oxymoron: sustainable development. If we want to bring about sustainable development, we must reinforce the elements of the local economy and recognize how much creativity there is in making this local economy. It is especially important for us, who live in the USA, to realize that the time is upon us when Community Rights will have to take primacy over the rights of the state, corporations and individuals. We can’t survive even for a day in post oil world without the help and support of our community. Therefore, legal instruments for giving primacy to community rights and local economies should be developed and legislated everywhere. We have all been misled that the corporate state cares for us and will use natural resources for our welfare: that has proved to be simply false. The market mechanism in its current form actually works against the interest of farmers and communities. The market responds to many irrational demands of the consumers, invariably driven by convenience, whereas an honest human being (and especially a farmer) has to balance the environmental costs that are not factored in by the market in its cost calculations.

Whilst community rights will tide over the crisis of survival and maybe extend our survival by a few centuries, it would require different constructs of morality and law, and a turnabout in consciousness with regards to responsibility. I'm not advocating we start another obnoxious revolution in opposition to someone or something or some abstract idea, and i'm not advocating we go about business as usual. I'm asking us to be discriminating, intelligent, heart-felt, co-producing participants in our local communities today, or else we lovelessly compromise what is in the best interest of all around the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Leak You Don't Want To Fix

Now that summer heat seems to be creeping up on Tuscaloosa, bringing also the sun and its unforgiving though necessary glare, it's more important than ever to ensure that the plants in our garden receive an adequate amount of water. Natural rainfall, while our favorite method of watering with no outside inputs of water and human labor, can only carry our plants so far as days of rain can be quite sporadic, sometimes raining for days in a row and then not for weeks.

We must then bring water into the garden ourselves! Up until only a matter of days ago, we had been using a hose situated a few meters from the garden fence to water the plants, either directly or by first filling up a watering can and using that. This method of soil "flooding" can be very time consuming, as we would need to walk around through the beds watering each plant individually.

So in order to ensure maximum time and water efficiency, we have now installed a drip irrigation system in the garden! A drip irrigation system involves laying plastic tubing call "drip tape" along the length of the beds in a garden. This tubing has tiny holes in it, allowing the water that runs through to slowly "drip" out and apply water directly to plants at ground level. The tubing can be arranged to fit the layout of any garden; you should cut it to fit the length of the bed, and then connect the tapes in the beds together via drip tape "connectors." In this way, one end of the tape system can be attached to the water source, and when the water is turned on, every length of the tape will receive flow.

In selecting the drip method of irrigation, we were taking into account which watering method would result in the least amount of wasted water, or which method would be most water efficient. Andrew Kimbrell, in The Fatal Harvest Reader, reinforces what I have heard elsewhere that "Farmers have achieved the best efficiency with drip irrigation systems...(using) from 30 to 70 oercent less water than flooding and has been shown to increase crop yields by 20 to 90 percent over that typical for fields irrigated in other ways."

I first encountered drip tape irrigation at Jean and Carol's farm in Coker, Alabama. They have used it for years, as the ease of operation and efficiency of application are hard matched by another system. Some issues that have been encountered there are occasional holes in the tape, often caused by a stray garden tool. These holes can be mended fairly easily, but we will make a great effort to be mindful not to accidentally strike the tape when using garden tools.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Many Thanks

So what is going to happen to the garden since summer is practically here? Students like Matthew Bush and Camille Perrett will be in Tuscaloosa to help take care of the garden. Students are discussing having one big potluck with all the delicious food we have growing. Let it be known, the food will not go to waste, but more importantly the garden will be taken care of even though there will not be as many students in town as during the school year.

There are all ready plans for what we will plant (crop rotation!) and do in the garden when we come back in the fall and I cannot wait until then. I hope next year we figure out a way to get the community and students more involved with the garden. It has been a tremendous success since it started a few years ago and each year a few more students become involved. It is important to try and get as many students involved if we want the garden to keep going. I hope we can also figure out a better way to advertise for the garden and the importance of it. Hopefully more students will gain an interest in gardening and sustainability.

Doing this independent study has been an eye-opening experience for me. I knew very little about gardening and sustainability before doing this study. I have learned many valuable things like why I start seeds in the greenhouse or which bugs are good for your garden and why. One small thing I learned is the importance of labeling your plants! Keep organized and realize which plants are which. I think one of the most fascinating things I have learned is about crop rotation and how certain plants restore nutrients in the ground that other plants take and vice versa. I have learned about the frost season and the dangers it can cause on plants, especially with this past winter.

From the readings I have learned more about the Slow Food Movement and the importance of knowing where my food comes from and what is in it. I have also learned new sustainable concepts and methods we could use in the garden.

I was glad we were also able to lead field trips at the garden. I was able to teach younger kids what I had just learned within the past few months! I was so excited to see them get to experience what I am learning from working in the garden.

Most importantly, I have gained a deeper respect, understanding, and concern for the environment. Before the study, I would say that I was all for “going green”, but did not know much about how I could do this or why it was so important. Plants are living organisms just like we are, and they deserve to be treated well. Without them, we would not be here.

Working in the garden this semester, I feel I have responsibility to take care of the it and make sure it is constantly being attended to. I plan on coming back in the Fall and helping with the garden and Students for Sustainability. I cannot wait to see what the garden has in store for the upcoming years!

Up, Up, Up They Go

Trellises are an architectural structure designed to help support plants. At the garden we are use trellises for our tomato plants. But not just any kind of trellises, bamboo trellises!

Students lucked out and received free bamboo from a Tuscaloosa resident who was throwing away all the bamboo he had. Bamboo is a great because it is strong and sturdy. It is also tall allowing our plants to grow up. Using bamboo is a creative and sustainable way to help our tomatoes grow.

Tomato plants need some type of trellis, whether bamboo or not, because the plants grow tall and need something to support them. They wrap around the bamboo and grow high allowing many tomatoes to bloom.

One morning out at the garden, Nicole, Camille, and I built multiple bamboo trellises. We had to make sure knots were tight when were tying the bamboo together, that way it would hold and not fall. We tried to learn a specific type of knot Matthew showed us, but we decided to stick to our own methods instead.

A Vision for UA

What would the University be like if we had a hoop house? A hoop house is a greenhouse made with large hoops or bows, made of metal, plastic pipe or even wood, covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse plastic. It typically has no heaters or fans, but instead, is heated by the sun and cooled by the wind. With a hoop house seasons will be longer and warmer allowing the garden to produce more. Plants can be started a few weeks earlier than the regular start date causing the plant to bloom early.

Just like a green house, hoop houses also protect against harmful weather and predators that can eat plants.

Hoophouses are inexpensive and pretty simple to build. You can build one for a couple hundred dollars and get more from your garden. At least six more weeks of extra production in the spring and fall because of the warmth of the hoophouse

Specific plants that can grow well in a hoop house are tomatos, raspberries, strawberries, cut flowers, melons, eggplant, summer squash, and pepper.

Thinking about starting a hoop house on campus could be a great idea. Many students have wanted to get an on-campus garden started at UA and a hoop house could be a cheap and great way to start. Students could build the hoop house together once a location was found for it. I think it should be strongly considered because it could allow more students to be involved with gardening and the Arboretum. The University is a big school and not having an on campus garden, lessens the possibility of students finding out about groups like Students for Sustainability and Homegrown Alabama.

Good Bugs for Your Garden

I've always heard you should try and keep bugs out of the garden. It is true that slugs and flea beetles are bad because they eat the leaves; however, there are numerous good bugs which help the garden and do not get enough recognition like they deserve. Here is a list of what bugs you want to keep in your garden.

Ladybugs are best known to feed on aphids(a small, plant eating insect). They can also eat chinch bugs, whiteflies, and mites, as well as many other soft-bodied insects and their eggs. Adult ladybugs may consume up to 5,000 aphids which can help save your plants from being eaten.

Parasitic wasps can kill intruding garden insects and help keep the garden organized.

Just like in The Bee Movie it is very important to have bees in the garden! They do not necessarily get rid of other bugs, but they do pollinate the flowers which we know from the movie, is needed for the plants to live.

Green lacewing larvae feed on aphids, whitefly, leafhoppers, mites, mealybugs, scale insects and some moths and caterpillars. They work very fast feeding on these bad bugs and their eggs

Centipedes are mean hunters and will feed on caterpillars, slugs and fly larvae, grubs, and pupae.

Spined Soldier Bug(stink bugs as I like to call them) prey on many types of beetles, webworms, armyworms and other garden pests.

Dragonflies are also beneficial to a garden because they feed on a large variety of insects. They feed on mosquitoes and other biting insects.

It is important to know which bug is good to have in a garden and why. If you have a certain insect problem like beetles, you might want to try and get the stink bug in your garden by going to the store and purchasing them. These good bugs listed above, are also attracted to certain plants, so considering growing these plants they like could be a good idea. Our bugs serve a purpose to our garden, and it is important to know which purpose they are serving!

Make Your Own Compost!

Since compost is very important and beneficial to the land I decided it is important to know how to make a compost pile. There are different ways and can be very low cost, if not free. It can also be quite simple to do!

How to start:

Find an area that is convenient for you and sunny because compost builds up its own heat and likes it too. Make sure the area is well drained because too much moisture can be a problem for your pile.

Some people use a bin to contain the compost, but it is not necessary. We do not do this at the garden.

Ingredients for the compost will be materials that break down. Green materials are a good source of nitrogen and brown materials are a good source of carbon.

Brown materials can include: bark, leaves, ashes, peanut shells, shredded newspaper, sawdust, vegetable stalks, twigs, fruit waste, pine needles, and peat moss.

Green Materials can be: manures, seaweeds, food waste, clover, hay, alfalfa, coffee grounds, garden waste, hedge clippings, seaweed, and algae

Building a pile of these materials is how to start the compost! Some say one part green and two parts brown is the fastest way to make compost.

Compost heats well between 120 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It needs sunlight and heat because it helps “cook” the materials and break down faster.

Turning your compost is important for the process and should be done once a week. If you want to make the process faster, you can take your big piles of organic waste and put it in the pile as opposed to small amounts. Also cutting up large materials into smaller ones can also help speed up the process.

It is important to give your compost the correct amount of moisture. The moisture level should feel like a damp sponge. Check moisture level once a week because too little moisture will slow down the process.

Keeping the pile together, giving it food, making sure it has the proper amount of sunlight and moisture, and turning it are the correct ways to make organic compost that you can use for your garden.

America DOES Have an Eating Disorder

Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, discusses in his introduction how America has an eating disorder. There are always the new fad diets like the Atkins diet, which limits bread intake. Americans follow these diets religiously, never questioning where the information comes from. We over think being trying to be healthy and instead end up with a huge problem. Pollen brings up the question of what are we eating for dinner and where does it come from? Why is it that America is the most obese country when other countries like France, eat “unhealthy” foods and are still healthier than us? These are all very important questions Pollen addresses in the book.

Pollen sets out to solve these questions by exploring the three food chains: industrial, organic, and hunter-gather. He finds that there are benefits and disadvantages from each chain.

I cannot say I have not tried eating less “unhealthy” food to try and lose weight. I have tried many diet tips and sometimes they may work, but not always. After reading this book I have been more concerned as to where my food is coming from and what is in it. Knowing this information can make a huge difference on whether the food is bad for me or not. For example, I would have never wanted to eat all-natural yogurt, which was not fat-free, a year ago. I wanted the Dannon eighty-calorie and one hundred percent fat-free yogurt. I was completely unaware of the chemicals like aspartame, which some believe to be a carcinogen, is contained in my fat-free yogurt. Now I’m starting to understand the importance of what is in the food because what I may think is healthy, could be harmful.

Most Americans have no idea where their food comes from and what is in it. They are completely unaware the cow they are eating was given antibiotics not meant for it, or the pesticide put in the soil of their produce can be harmful. Americans would not be the most obese country if they understood the importance of where their food comes from. If Americans would stop worrying about how many calories are in a bag of chips and instead start wondering what are in these chips?, things would be much different. Most do not even take the time to read the labels on a food can. For example, I picked up a can of BBQ Smoked Sausage and was startled when it said it contained chicken, pork, and beef. Isn’t sausage just supposed to come from pork?

It is important to know where your food comes from because it is important to take care of oneself. When one knows where food comes from and what has been done to it, they know exactly what is going into their body. We were not meant to be able to eat all the preservatives we consume when we eat McDonalds French fries. We are suppose to be able to eat plants that grow from the ground naturally and animals that eat plants which have not been sprayed with chemicals. Instead we are completely oblivious to what is in our food, and many Americans could care less. The irony in this is that Americans want to be “healthy” but are not recognizing the how to go about this.

Another point Pollen hits on is the art of food. Why should we demean food by not eating it because it is not “healthy”? Food is a beautiful and cultural aspect that we should respect. Just because a certain food might be high in fat, does not mean it is bad for you. Countries like France and Italy eat unhealthy food and are still healthier than us because they care more about the taste and quality as opposed to the calorie content.

If America wants to decrease the number of obese people in the country, it is going to need to realize that understanding where your food comes from and what is it in is more important than the percentage of fat in it. Industrial food is boring and not the best. Organic can have great results on ones health from eating it. Hunting and gathering food is supposed to come naturally for us, and when eating the correct food can also have tremendous benefits on our health. Food is a wonderful thing we have in our lives, and it should be respected at all levels.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pro's of Eating Organic

At the Arboretum we have an organic garden. There are numerous reasons why it is good to be organic and reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbra Kingsolver, has enlightened me on some of these reasons.

Many people do not know exactly what it means to be “organic” or why it is considered healthy. When a plant or garden is organic, it means no chemicals or herbicides have been added to the soil or plant. Everything is in its natural state and is able to decompose.

But what are the benefits of growing and eating organic? Organic produce gives more nutritional value then those that are “conventional”. These fruits and vegetables have to fight off predators themselves. They are not able to hide themselves when a rodent comes along because they have roots in the ground. Whatever a plant has to go through, it endures it on its own, with no help.

Plants also build up their own immunity to diseases and pest-fighting compounds when they have not been sprayed with chemicals. When plants are not sprayed with chemicals, they typically have higher levels of antioxidants. These antioxidants are not supposed to be for us, but for the plants. We like to take advantage of the fact they can produce this. Antioxidants can help prevent certain diseases, cell aging, and tumor growth.

Organic food is great in taste and I feel like I can tell the difference when I eat organic produce versus conventional. I typically have more energy and feel happier when I eat organic food. This could be because I am aware of eating it and know the benefits of eating it; however, I am happy to know that when I eat organic produce I putting good things in my body.

Even though it may be pricey to buy organic produce, it may be worth it in the end with the health benefits.

Weeding It Out

Every time I go out to the garden, the one thing I usually always do is weed. I sit in the rows and pull the weeds out of the beds. By the end of the hour, I will have a huge pile of weeds which I take and put in the compost pile.

Weeds compete with the crop one is growing by taking the water, nutrients, and sunlight. A weed is a plant and just like any plant, it needs water, sun, and nutrients to grow. They can lower crop quality and produce harmful chemicals like allelopathy. They can also increase the number of insects in the area they are growing.

We only use tools and our hands at the garden to remove weeds. Instruments we use are action hoes, and trovels.

There are some ways to prevent weeds. At the garden we use hay which is our mulch, to help prevent weeds. We also allow our friends, worms, to help cultivate for us.

Some farmers use herbicides to reduce weeds. In an article written in The New York Times, it discusses how herbicides, like Roundup, have created superweeds. Farmers are having to go back to pulling weeds and other labor-induced work to get rid of the weeds. Thankfully, we do not have to worry this, because we do not use herbicides.

When we pull weeds from out of the ground, we try not to take a lot of soil from the ground. Soil is usually stuck in the roots, so to try and save it, we shake the roots and the soil usually falls.

Different plants can attract different weeds so it is important to be able to identify them.

If They Come, You Will Build It

I had never seen so many eager faces in our garden as the day of the Double-Digging Potluck event. In mid-April, we found that we had several tomato plants that were ready to be transplanted into the ground, but no space for them. So we made plans to create a few new nicely sized beds for them to go in. The way we go about creating new beds at the garden is a method called double-digging, which involves breaking up ground, shoveling it out, breaking up the ground beneath the foot-or-so that was shoveled out, and then filling the hole in with all the removed dirt mixed with compost. This method is thorough and provides the plants with lots of room to extend their roots through the now-loose soil, while also ensuring that the nutrient-rich compost is present at lower levels in the ground, too. Double-digging, however is also very labor-intensive!

So Nicole, Matthew, Ann and I, feeling like the four of us atetmpting to prepare more than one bed in this way over the span of just a few hours was, though surely possible, likely to leave us with a soreness that might last days, decided to extend an invitation for help! Through a Facebook event, we invited the Students for Sustainability group along with some of our friends to come out on a Saturday morning to help us double-dig out some beds, and encouraged for everyone to bring a dish or drinks to share for an afternoon picnic.

The response was great! There were about fifteen people who came out, and so for every person working hard, there was another ready to take over when things got too tiring. We worked for about three hours or so, and then enjoyed a delicious meal together. I figured out that Matthew's got a knack for guacamole, and Nicole makes a mean hummus. It was a very fun time, and to me, extremely encouraging to see all of those people ready to help out with the garden effort.

For some of the people who attended, they shared that it was their first time to ever come out to the garden, or even to the arboretum! It made me realize the importance of having events at the garden that extend out to the community. In the future, I expect to host several more group building and planting days, complete with good food and even better company such as this one. Anytime I see someone new in the garden, I get a really good feeling, and it seems to be something that we share.


Reading from The New Organic Farmer, I was better able to understand the importance of transplanting. Transplanting is when one starts seedlings in one area and then moving them to another.

Transplanting can be very beneficial to a garden and there are many reasons why it is important and helpful. First from the reading I found that seedlings are better able to be under controlled temperatures in a green house. This is very important because different plants like a tropical tomato require different temperatures and in a greenhouse one can control the cultural conditions for a plant. The author recommends a thermostatically controlled bottom-heating propagation mat in the greenhouse. We use one of these in our greenhouse at the Arboretum.

He says that transplanting is typically used for crops that regrow roots easily like tomato, lettuce, celery, and onion.

When transplanting it is important to make sure the roots of the plants are lease disturbed as possible so they are not harmed. If mistreated, the plants could not grow properly or die. Transplanting is a value for crops that are less tolerant of root disturbance, so the transplanting must be done in the best way possible.

One most be considerate with the type of containers used for transplanting. Single pots may be difficult and awkward for a big group of plants. Large containers with trays may be problematic because of root circling. At the garden we use big trays with portable, single containers for the seeds.

Kick Off The Summer At The Homegrown Market

If all this talk about the garden has got you thinking about muching on a delicious heirloom tomato, or maybe cooking up some savory greens, a trip to the market is essential!

Our friends at Homegrown Alabama have organized another season's worth of weekly markets, the first of which will be this week! The kick-off market will be Thursday, May 6th from 3-6 in the afternoon, on the lawn of the Canterbury Chapel. That's right on the corner of Hackberry and University, for those who aren't familiar.

Last year, my first year as a student here, I made an effort to come out to several of the markets, and was excited to find a wide array of vendors, selling everything from pickles and jellies to baked goods, and of course ample amounts of fresh veggies, fruits and flowers. Local food vendors and live music add to the excitment, making a trip to the Homegrown Market more like an event than a shopping run.
But besides being a whole lot of fun, the market allows local growers and the people of our community a chance to meet together in one place and exchange not only food and money, but also conversations, stories, and laughs. It's very meaningful and rare to be able to get to know the people who have made it possible, through hours of labor and awesome care, for us to have delicious and healthy food.

If you can't make it out on this coming Thursday, the market will be held all season, from May to October, same place, same day of the week, same time! A slightly different vendor line-up and selection of purchasables and music is to be had each time, though, so try not to miss a single one!

Hope to see you out there!

For more info, visit the Homegrown Alabama website at:

Importance of Crop Rotation

If one wants to have a successful garden filled with different vegetables and plants, it is important to learn about crop rotation. Reading from The New Organic Grower, crop rotation is defined as the “practice of changing the crop each year on the same piece of ground”(Hawken 50).

The main reason to do this is because certain plants restore nutrients back in the ground that other plants can use and vice versa. All plants respond to diverse fertilization patterns. For example, it is good to plant beans one season and then switch to corn the next. The reason for this is because beans give off a bunch of nitrogen in the soil which corn needs a lot.

“Two successive crops do not make the same demands on soil for nutrients, nor do they share disease or insect pests”(51).

Besides not needing the same nutrients, rotating crops can reduce the amount of weeds and insects in a garden. When a crop is grown in the same place, the insects and weeds attracted to the certain plant will start to grow and build up. Weeds and insects are attracted to certain plants, so rotating crops is a good way to stop this problem. A good example of this are rotating potatoes with winter squash.

The book also states rotations need the best of "organic soil amendments”(54).
Manure is incredibly important to the soil and it is important it is rotated as well. Some plants need new compost every year like squash, corn, peas, and beans. While others are better grown on a ground manured the previous year like tomatos, cabbages, and potatos.

Terms to Know

When I first started going to the garden for my independent study I would hear words from Mary Jo and Nicole Ortega that I did not know. Some of these words were germinate, vermicompost, compost, transplant, tillage, and mulch. I would wonder what these words meant, and after going to the garden I would come back to my dorm and research them.

I figured I would enlighten others on the meanings of the words and why they are important to the garden.

Germinate is when the plant comes out of the seed or spore and begins to grow. I heard this term a lot in the Janurary and February because that is when we started seeding the plants in the green house. We had seeded spinach, lettuce, thyme, and many other plants which we were watching and waiting for them to “germinate”. We started tomatos in the first couple of weeks in March. When we first seeded plants we would keep them on the heating pad, and once we saw a little sprout of the plant we would move them off the heating pad and let them grow in the green house until it was time to transplant them in the garden. We had to schedule when we would plant the seeds because of the frost dates. For this region the last frost is in mid-April.

Compost is a word I had heard before starting the study and had a slight idea of what it was. It is decomposing plants and organic materials combined into rich soil. It provides great nutrients, soil structure, helps hold moisture in gardens, and fertilizes the soil. It is very beneficial to the land and is cost free. It also reduces the amount of wastes in landfills.

Heavy clay soils, like we have in the garden, become lighter with the addition of compost. Compost helps retain water in sandy soil and poor soils receive healthy nutrients when compost is added.

Compost is a major strong point we can take pride in with the garden. Without it, we would not have the successful growing and blooming of healthy plants.

Mulch is a protective covering we put over the soil and plants. It helps decrease weeds and erosion, retains moisture, and supplies nutrients as they decompose. There are many ways you can use mulch in your garden, organic or not. At the garden we use hay as our organic mulch. We could also use leave, shells, shredded bark, grass, or sawdust.

Vermicompost is one of the most fun and exciting things we do at the garden. We use worm poop to help create an organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. When I first found out about this, I was in shock. I had no idea you could use worm manure to help make compost.

Transplanting is when one starts seedlings in one place and then moving them to another. At the garden we start most of our plants in the greenhouse in small treys and containers. Once the plant starts growing bigger we move it into larger containers which are more suited for its size, like a tomato plant. When it is finally time, we carefully remove the plant from the container and put it in the ground of our garden.

Tillage is the preparation of the soil in agriculture. The most common used method for tillage is plowing. The importance of tillage is to lighten the soil, allow oxygen and organic materials in, and remove weeds. One always wants a non-compacted soil for their plants so it is important to make sure the soil is soft and loose. At the garden we do not till, but instead double-dig to loosen the soil and improves water drainage. A no-till garden is more sustainable than a tillage garden.

These specific terms and meanings are important and necessary to understand when working or wanting to start a garden.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Double-Digging Potluck

On Saturday April 17, 2010 a group of students went to the garden to double-dig more beds and have a potluck after. Double-digging helps loosen the soil and provide structure. Many of the students were in the group Students for Sustainability but there were also students who came out from hearing about the event. We all worked together to start double digging beds in the area of the garden where there were not any. It was hard work because the ground was so solid and hard to turn. We tried to wet the soil to loosen it up, but even that did was not helpful enough for one bed. We had to use many instruments to double-dig and by the end we had made a more than a few new beds.

The process for double-digging can be tricky and hard to follow. To start the double digging, we would try and remove the weeds growing in the area we wanted the bed to be. Once we removed the weeds, we measured about a foot wide of the bed and removed the soil and put it in the wheelbarrow. Then we would dig beside that first foot, which was empty, and put the soil we were digging, in the first area we dug. We turned the soil and added compost to it. Then we would dig beside the area we had just dug and put that soil in the previous, empty area and turn the soil and put compost in. We did this until the entire bed had been completely dug up and formed.

In these new beds, we are planning on putting in more tomatoes, herbs, watermelons, and flowers.

Afterwards we all enjoyed delicious food like home-made hummus Nicole Ortega made, guacamole with half-cherry tomatoes made by Matthew Bush, a pasta dish from Camille Perret, and chips and drinks. It was a very hot afternoon, but having a group to work together really helped get more accomplished.

With this event we also found more students who wanted to be involved with the garden and join Students for Sustainability. Some of the new students did not know how to even get to the Arboretum and had never heard of Students for Sustainability. Having events like this, opens the door of opportunity for students to find out and get involved in the garden which is why it is important to have these events.
This is the bed that was the hardest to dig up because the soil was so clay-like. Even the addition of water did not help to loosen it up.

Learning Young

Lydia Atkins, a former New College student brought her fifth grade class and one fourth-grader from Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary School to the Arboretum for a field trip. The students were lead throughout the Arboretum and saw the greenhouses, garden, and the tree topology. Camille Perret and I lead one group of students around to the different stations. The children had actually been learning about gardening with Lydia, so they were excited to see the Arboretum.

We first started off in the greenhouses. Camille and I asked them questions like, why we would start our plants in a green house instead of in the garden? We had various answers from the students. For example, students said because you are able to control temperature in the house and that it is a good way to make sure bugs and rodents would not get into the plants. We also showed the vermicompost and explained the importance of worm poop for the soil. The kids really enjoyed seeing the worms and were impressed by the big container. We also showed them the peels of fruit we eat like cantolope in the vermicompost. We explained how this helps make compost which is good for the soil.

After the greenhouses, we went to the tables outside where there were numerous tomato, basil, and marigold plants. We told the children they were going to be planting one of these plants in the garden. Camille showed them the correct way to remove a plant from the container and place it in the ground.

After the demonstration we lead our group of children to the garden where they each planted one plant. We had to make sure the children did not step on the beds and compact the soil.

Many of Lydias students had not visited the Arboretum before and did not know it existed. I talked with Lydia and Sarah Massey after the field trip and they said the children loved the Arboretum. They wondered why school could not be taught out there instead of inside. They both said the children were surprised to learn you can different types of plants in the green house like tropical and non-native plants. They said probably their favorite part of the trip was seeing the worms.

I think it is wonderful that children are getting involved and learning about gardening at a young age. I never had an experience like a field trip to the arboretum but I’m glad teachers are trying to incorporate and show the importance of growing plants. Growing plants are important because they help keep us alive. I’m glad these students were able to have a hands-on experience with the garden and I hope they understand the importance of growing plants.


On January 20 I attended the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The conference lasted three days and each day there were different seminars on how to promote sustainable agriculture in the south. Each meeting was about an hour and a half long and everyone in my group would attend a meeting they thought might be beneficial to University’s Garden. The students who attended the conference were: Nicole Ortega, Sarah Masterson, Matthew Bush, Matthew Smith, Lizzie Beale, Andrea Mabry, and myself. Not only did we listen to speakers discuss different techniques they use, but we also talked to others who attended the conference and asked about their involvement with sustainability in agriculture.

I attended one seminar called “Plasticulture for Vegetables and Flower Production.” Grace Summers from North Carolina spoke about using plasitcultre. She said the use of place in agriculture can help diminish extreme temperatures for horticultural crops.
One typically uses a drip irrigation to help plasticulture. The advantages of using a drip irrigation for plasticulture are using less water and disease and weeds are reduced. The disadvantages of using a drip irrigation are a higher level of management required, potential to stress plants is greater, and can be damaged by insects and rodents. After setting up the drip irrigation and raising the bed, one can finally put the plastic on the ground.

I found out in this seminar this is used on big farms and would not help with our small, but valuable garden. Instead we are using tomato mulch which should help.

I also attended another seminar about biodiversity which was taught by the “Barefoot Farmer.” Everyone in our group attended this meeting because he was well known and his discussion was supposed to be very interesting.

He said how he reads books from a hundred years ago on how to farm because he does not want to replace good farming techniques. He discussed the importance of compost which is one of our strong points at the garden. He also said how microorganisms are important in the soil because they help the soil and the plants live.

One interesting technique that he uses is that he does not irrigate. He uses only compost and that is all he needs.

What I gained from his talk, was that there are millions of organisms and nutrients and they all contribute to our planet and how we live and work in agriculture.

SSAWG was a good introduction to starting the independent study. I knew very little about sustainability and agriculture, but by talking to those in my group and attending the conference, I was able to gain more knowledge on the subject.