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Organic Gardening Newsletter #1 - 1/19/2009


Organic Gardening Class Newsletter #1

See items 4, 5, and 6 for commentary on Marc's and Carl's talks, and for details about a hands-on "garden raising" workshop on February 1.

1.   Marc Kessler's handout is available here, as well as Carl Rosato's handouts

2.   GRUB information provided by Francine:

Growing, Resourcefully, Uniting, Bellies,

We are a nonprofit organization, unbrella'd under the Chico Food Net work.

*We run a CSA, (Community Supported Agriculture). 
*We do garden education with 12 childrens facilities at the the gardens that we built for them.
*We pick up organic waste from 6 restaurants down town by bicycle.
*We have a fruit tree registry where we pick fruit trees that are not going to be eaten.

Our Motivations & Intentions

We want to minimize our ecological footprint. Food systems and industrial agriculture as they exist today are extremely wasteful, generating 20% of the carbon emissions for the whole country. By using organic practices & ensuring that the food we produce stays local we can minimize fossil fuel usage.

We intend to nourish our community with food and knowledge & deepen its connections. Benefit nights, volunteer days, restaurant compost pick up and time spent with kids, all contribute to our sense of community. As people continue to know their farmer, as kids learn to plant veggies & as individuals learn to collaborate & share we become closer to one another & our food ...the world is ours to create!     

3.   Here is some information on the organization which is providing their auditorium for our sessions. They welcome your involvement.

                                                                       What is the Chico Grange?
Our mission is to promote local agriculture, 
environmental stewardship,
and a vibrant community.

Currently the Grange is working to re-establish the important role of family farms for the American economy and for a secure local food supply.

•  Sustainable agriculture and a sustainable society are Grange priorities, including issues related to preservation of farm lands. 

The Chico Grange supports sustainable, healthy local food, with a special interest in organic food production and its availability in local stores, restaurants and farmers markets.

We’re repairing and modernizing our 19th century historic hall in northwest Chico as a new community center for Slow Food and music events, classes, weddings, meetings, fundraisers, and other activities. 

We invite you to join our Chico Grange to help us support an expanding, healthy local food supply, restore our roots in the land, and restore our hall to its full vitality and potential as a community center.

To find out more go to:  

Please come to a meeting to learn more. We meet the 3d Monday of each month for sometimes a 6:00 potluck and program with the meeting following, or just the meeting starting at 6:30, at 2775 old Nord Avenue (just east of Hwy 32, north of East Avenue in NW Chico). 

Or apply and join us today if you’d like to be part of the statewide modernization of the old Grange movement. Dues are $30-$75, letting you select your level of support,  plus a $5 application fee.

It takes a community effort to bring a building and a tradition like ours back to life, with a modern vision to meet the Chico community’s needs today and tomorrow.

Nancy Pyle, Secretary
Chico Grange #486
2775 Nord Avenue
Chico, CA  95973
cell phone: (530)591-0530

4.   Marc Kessler's talk gave us a very nice overview of organic gardening.  The value of diverse plantings for beneficial insect habitat was particularly enlightening.  He is happy to see some aphids to provide food for ladybugs and their ilk.  One question raised by Robert was whether the (trans) notation on the handout was for planting in the greenhouse or transplanting into the garden.  Marc replied that these are the dates for planting in the greenhouse or coldframe, and that transplanting is later when the plants are the right size and the field conditions are right.

5.   Carl Rosato's talk:  as a former farmer, I found Carl's presentation to be really helpful.  I may get back into farming soon, and this information is vital to organic producers.  For those who are less sophisticated than farmers, Carl's material was pretty advanced.  So here is my attempt to simplify some of the information.

Healthy soils make for healthy plants with more disease and pest resistance, better flavor and more nutritional value.  Soils in general can be described as sandy, clayey or loamy.  Loam is ideal, and is a mix of sand, silt, and clay.  The soils in this area are mostly Vina loams, which are among the best in the world.  Sandy soils drain fast.  They need organic matter (from compost and green manures) to help retain water and nutrients.  Clay soils drain slowly.  They need organic matter to improve drainage, increase aeration, and make more nutrients available.  So you need to compost your kitchen scraps, leaves, lawn clippings, etc. and spread the finished compost on your soil.

N, P and K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) are the major nutrients.  N is leachable, so need replenishing.  Good compost contains N and releases it slowly.  Soil pH affects nutrient availability.  You want a neutral to slightly acid pH in your soil.  Chico soils tend to be a little alkaline.  Gypsum is often recommended for this (it also reduces blossom end rot in tomatoes).  Limestone isn't usually recommended in this region.  In the foothills, you may want to add limestone, depending on your pH.

A soil test will help you  plan for any amending.  If your soil needs phosphorus, a good form is rock phosphate, which must be mixed in the top 6" of soil, since it doesn't move in the soil like N or K.

If your soil has areas that stay wet after heavy rains, you may need to put in drainage pipe.  Have an expert advise how to do this if you have poor drainage.  This is rarely a problem in Chico's better soils, so most of you don't need to do anything about this.

To take a soil sample, you use a clean trowel (no fertilizer or dirt residue) to slice off samples into a plastic bucket.  Mix the sample thoroughly.  The sample should be moist but not saturated.  Send the bag (provided) to the lab.  A soil sample taken later in the spring will show more, but it is worth doing now for spring vegetables.  If you send your sample soon, you will have the results for Carl to interpret at the end of the field trip on February 15.

In my opinion, a couple of inches of well rotted compost is fine on a garden.  When I farmed, we had 2 tons of chicken manure spread per acre, which looked like powered sugar on a cake.  Manure should be composted before applying to the soil.  At our next session, I will ask class members to suggest local composts they recommend. 

Carl chops his prunings and lets them rot between the rows of peach trees.  They break down quickly because his soil has high biological activity and frequent summer wetting.  Wood chips, sawdust, rice hulls, and similar high carbon low nitrogen materials should not be mixed into your soil.  The microorganisms that break them down tie up N and your plants could suffer a N deficiency.  These materials are fine in mulch. By the way, don't mulch with hay that has wheat, barley or oat seeds.  The grains sprout into big tough weeds.

I will answer a few soils or other questions at the beginning of the next session.

6.   Hands on opportunity:  On Sunday February 1 (weather permitting), I am offering a half day workshop for a smaller group - a "garden raising."  The fee for this is $10, with a limit of 10 participants.  We will bring shovels, hoes and rakes and clear the weeds and dig up and amend one person's garden.  The person who gets their garden done will need to send in a soil sample and there will be a reasonable fee for my three visits (workshop day plus planting session and germination check).  I will take the sample with you when I come to see if your garden will be suitable for a raising.  We can discuss this briefly on Sunday.

If you are interested in having your garden "raised", please e-mail me ASAP.  I will visit and give you a free consult and pick one garden to start the "raisings."  If this works well, we can definitely schedule more of them.  The workshop will include instructions and tips about tool use and maintenance, and whatever knowledge I can impart in that afternoon.  It should be fun.  

7.   Soil testing:  Carl gave me 10 bags and papers for taking soil samples.  If you want to get your soil analyzed, this is the opportunity.  The test costs $32.00.  If you have your results back, Carl will interpret them for free right after the field trip to his farm on February 15.  Bring a notebook to jot down recommended amendments.  You can go to A & L Labs website and order the sample bag for free.  Please email me if you want one of the 10 sampling kits.  I can order more next week after we see how many gardeners want to send in a sample.

Happy Gardening,

David Grau
Valley Oak Tool Company

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