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Organic Gardening Newsletter #3 - 2/2/2009


Organic Gardening Newsletter #3:


Thank you David Guzzetti and all the volunteers for a wonderful meal.  As David said, when you use the best local ingredients, you get amazing tastes without a lot of "finishing" with rich cheese sauces and such muddying the palate.  To the extent available, the ingredients were local and organic.  The following local organic ingredients were purchased at the Chico Farmers Market:

Carrots from Pyramid Farms.  
Parsley from Al Vogel.  
Meyer lemons from Bruce Balgooyen.   
Tofu from Cal Tofu.
Bread from Miller's Bakery
Lettuce and green onions from Rob Montgomery
Olive oil from Chaffin Orchards
Rice from Massa Farm

Every one of these ingredients was superior in freshness and flavor, and undoubtedly in nutritional value.  As our local Butte County food production and distribution systems continue to grow and evolve, we should be able to find even more ingredients for this kind of wonderful fare in the middle of the winter.  Rob Montgomery had golden beets a week or so ago.  Winter gardening starts in July and August, and the crops will hold in the ground all winter. It should be possible to make apple cider vinegar from local organic apples.  We will have to ask Dave Hollingsworth if it is possible to have potatoes in January.  I am hoping he will be giving a talk on potato production some time soon, maybe April?

Soil Testing:    

11 people have submitted soil samples so far.  The first batch was mailed last week, and the next batch will go out tomorrow.  I will be happy to send off one more batch of samples if you bring them on next Sunday February 8.  After that, you can of course send them yourself.  The analysis on those probably won't be back in time for Carl Rosato to interpret on February 15 at the end of the field trip.  Hopefully he will be able to join the class in March to interpret this batch of tests.  I emailed Carl to find out, and should know by Sunday.

Garden Raising:  

 Hazel, Mair, Jeannie, Corin and I did the first garden raising today.  It went well, and Corin is very happy to have her plot transformed into a plantable condition in one afternoon.  We piled bark and rocks, dug out rose trunks of unbelievable size, and ripped up an incredible quantity of gnarly tree roots.  It was probably the toughest raising we will do this year.  Everyone did a fantastic job. Corin is planning to join in on Hazel's and Mair's garden raising next Saturday February 7 at Noon.  We will plant Corin's plot soon.  Her son is building her a fence to keep the dogs out, and setting up a drip system with parts and advice from Chico Sprinkler (in the phone book).  It was truly like magic to do this together. 

Please email me if you would like to reserve a spot for this garden raising on this Saturday February 7 at Noon.   We will start with a light lunch.  Cost is $10.00, and we will be raking wood chips, adding compost, tilling with the 3 tine cultivator, and raking it flat.  We will also be pruning a couple of fruit trees, and consulting on many aspects of the garden.  You will learn about tool sharpening and use, and get a lot of questions answered.  After the first garden raising, there is no fee to come again and help out.  

I have committed to 2 more garden raisings, and 6 more people have requested a consult about doing a garden raising on their plots.  Due to constraints on my time, I am not sure how many more after the next two I can lead.  I would love to see 20 or 30 garden raisings happen by April 15, but we are going to have to get creative to accomplish this.  As you may realize by now, we are creating this class experience on the fly to some extent (like completely).  But it all seems to fall together, given the networking we are doing.  Leslie Corsbie offers a service that includes installing a garden.  She of course charges a fee for this professional service.  I have emailed her to see what she has to offer.  She may be able to charge somewhat less if she has a crew of volunteers doing some of the work.  Her email address is  Maybe there are other people class members know who are offering this service.  If so, please let me know.

Midnight Oil:  

As you can see by the hour this email is sent, I am up late getting garden class preparation done.  I am going to need to budget my time more efficiently as the spring arrives (like starting NOW).  So I am asking that we work out ways to do some of this organizing with less time spent by me (of course, I still want complete control of each and every detail).  It is of course my own fault that I have added more tasks like handling soil samples and doing garden raisings.  The seed ordering should go easier with Suzanne helping coordinate it.  Maybe that's what i lack: coordination.

Seed Ordering:

Fedco's catalogs should arrive any day.  I will distribute them in class when they get here.  We can do a group order and get a discount.  Each person's order is bundled separately in the box, so it is easy to distribute.  Fedco is organic, inexpensive, and just plain nice folks.  They aren't fast in sending orders, so we will be ordering mostly warm season seeds.  Bruce Balgooyen and I are going to put in an order of spring and summer seeds tomorrow (7PM tonight actually).  I will order a short list of items that I think will be desired by the class, and I will sell them at a good price.  These seeds should be here in about 2 weeks, so get your ground ready before the rains make it too wet to work.  The full benefit of the discount on Bruce's and my initial order will pass on to the class on our group order.  You will have one week from getting the catalog to submit your order sheet with a check to Valley Oak Tool Company.  Fedco has lower prices and ships for free.  I won't be doing several group orders.  Maybe one more in about June if this first round goes easily.

What to do in the garden this week:

If you haven't already, it is time to remove last year's dead vines and plants and put them in the compost pile.  Spread some compost and work it in the top few inches.  If your soil is tight, open it up with a shovel, a fork, a rototiller, or a 3 tine cultivator behind the wheel hoe.  If you have tested your soil, you will know what other amendments to add, perhaps gypsum or rock phosphate.  Go buy some seeds (check the package to make sure it is seed packed for 2009, it should be stamped on the envelope).  This is the time to plant radishes, beets, chard, spinach, leaf lettuce and I would think arugula.  Pre-soak sugar snap or snow peas on wet paper towels in the kitchen and plant them when they have a tip of a radicle showing.  Look at Marc's list for more seeds to plant in January and February.  

Homegrown compost is much better than the bagged stuff.  You can get bulk compost at the Chico Municipal Greenwaste Tu-Sat (some like it, some don't), or the Worm Farm (reports are pricey but good), Kinney's (not sure how this is).  A pickup truck load of the municipal stuff is not too much for a 500-1000 square foot garden. You shouldn't need as much of the worm farm compost.  Bagged steer manure is not so great.  Bagged composted chicken manure is hot, use sparingly.  Fresh manure should be mixed with other green matter (leaves, grass clippings, etc) and composted before applying to the garden, both to stabilize nutrients from leaching or evaporating, and to protect against pathogens.

Make a list of what you want to grow this year.  Make a little map of your garden.  Planning is a virtue.

If you make a 1" deep furrow with a stick or the corner of your hoe, you can drop seeds into it and cover them with sifted compost.  Plants emerge better through compost than through a soil that has been crusted by rains or sprinkling.  Cover most of these seeds 1/2" or less.  Water as needed to keep the soil moist (daily if this heat wave continues).  It may help to pound in 2 stakes and tie a string over the row so you get a straight line.  Row of spring veggies should usually be about 15" apart.  Drop one or two seeds per inch and you will thin them after emergence.  Radish rows can be 12" apart.  READ THE SEED CATALOG OR PACKET FOR PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS.

If you have a greenhouse or coldframe, start tomato seeds sown thickly 1/8" deep in flats of potting mix and keep them damp in the warm house for a few days until they are sprouting.  Then place them in the greenhouse with lots of sun exposure.  They will need to be watered daily.  When the first true leaves form, you can prick them out into six-packs or flats to grow for transplanting in early April.  Wait a couple weeks and do the same thing with pepper and eggplant seeds.

Magic is in the air, 

see you in class,
David Grau

Valley Oak Tool Company
P.O. Box 301
Chico  CA   95927
telephone 530-342-6188

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