Sustainable Agriculture

The Concept of Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals: Environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.

Sustainable promotes the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable means to be constantly aware of our actions toward the soil, water, air, energy, and the human connection to all of these concerns.

For far too many years we have been depleting our major resources and replacing nothing.

Giving back, putting back, better than what we take is the only way to ensure that next year or in ten years or 100 years, the earth will still be caring for us as it has for all of time.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Growing by the “Raised Bed” Method
~Why and How

A raised bed method of gardening has taken root and for many it’s a simpler and safer way of growing. From small kitchen gardens to fields of produce for market, raised beds are here to stay.

Some major reasons to consider the raised bed method:

1) When you build and enclose a raised bed, you have just cut your maintenance in half. There will be fewer weeds (if any), well draining soil, few if any pests, and the elimination of foot traffic – which is the biggest reason for compacted soil. Because of these three improvements you will have a highly attractive and higher yield garden.

2) Raised beds can be enclosed with garden timbers (cedar, redwood and cypress) brick, block and rock will all fit the plan perfectly. I like 4x 8 size beds for the ease of working it from side to side without constant moving from one side to the other.

Now, for the layering process. Just think of it as making a Dagwood sandwich.

The area where your garden will be should be cut as close to the dirt as possible with your lawn mower.

Build your frame around the plot to your desired size.

You are now ready to build your soil.

Fall is the best time…..let it compost over the winter.

1) Right on the freshly mowed site, layer about 10 sheets of wet newspaper (no glossy colors) or cardboard. Wetting the paper or cardboard will hold it in place and speed up the process of composting.

2) On top of this add 4 to 6 inches of barn manure in some stage of composting.

3) Add to the manure 3 to 4 inches of dried leaves, grass, and other yard clippings.

4) Add 1 to 2 inches of peat-moss to the top.

Repeat this layering process until you have a depth of 12 to 24 inches. More if you wish.

The more layers you build the higher your soil line will be. Twenty four inches is the standard for most. You don’t want your soil line higher than the frame of your bed.

Once your beds are layered, water well and cover with a plastic tarp if so desired. Check from time to time and don’t allow the beds to dry out for long periods of time. (I leave mine open so they get the rain water and the natural weather cycles….it all helps the process.)

This method attracts microbes, earthworms, etc., that do the same work as a garden pick and tiller, and fertilizers at the same time. Come spring, just plant right into your ready made soil.

Remember too that you can compost all your kitchen scraps such as peeling from vegetables and fruits, coffee and tea grinds, and egg shells. Do not compost meat, bones, oils, or any cooked food. This will rot and draw animals and insects to your garden.

You can add these kitchen waste products directly to your beds, but I prefer to have a compost pile and process it separate from the beds.

For a healthy garden site always rotate your crops yearly and in the case of cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplants, every 2 to 3 years. This stops pest from setting up house-keeping and over-wintering to wait for the new crop.

A good step to take before you start to build your beds is to have an idea of what you will be growing so you can add material to your beds that a certain crop might need. (Sand, blood/bone-meal, etc.)

Companion planting is a perfect crop practice. We will cover this in another segment.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Growing Stevia Sweet Herb

Growing Stevia Sweet Herb

Stevia is considered easy to grow but it does have some basic requirements. Stevia rebaudiana is one of about 154 members of the genus Stevia. A member of the Sunflower family, stevia is a small herbaceous subtropical perennial shrub that grows to 2 maybe 3 feet tall.

Stevia grows best in cooler climates but for some strange reason it has done well for me in middle, southern Tennessee. During the growing season it supposedly thrives best at between 60 and 85 degrees. Here in our part of Tennessee, we range more in the 90’s during the average growing season.

It grows as a perennial in frost free zones but otherwise can be grown as an annual.

Stevia rebaudiana is the only member of the genus containing the sweet compounds.

When you are planning to try your luck at growing Stevia, look for plants that have been grown from cuttings with a high stevioside content. Cuttings are more reliable than seeds, so I would highly advise cuttings for the first try anyway.

Plant outside in early spring after all danger of frost has passed. It requires a minimum of 12 hours of sunlight to remain green and growing. If it doesn’t get enough light it will flower too soon. Full sun is best but not extreme hot weather (if that makes sense). I have read that filtered sun from noon to 4 p.m. is really good in the southern states. Mine is growing right smack in the middle of an open field…next year I will plan for a better location.

Sandy Loam soil with plenty of organic matter is great. A layer of mulch works after the soil heats up and stays hot. And I would certainly advise growing it in a raised bed…but then I grow everything in raised beds…just makes life for the plants and for me much better!

Be very careful when working around the plant, it is brittle and easily broken.

Stevia requires a consistently moist soil…but not waterlogged. I use a manure fertilizer worked into the soil before planting.

Above all else avoid high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers; they produce large leaves and no flavor.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Planning Your Herb Garden

The first thing to consider is how much time you wish to devote to your garden during the course of a day, week, or year. Maintenance is required, be it little or much.

My suggestion is to start out small and grow the size as you grow in knowledge and desire.

Selecting Your Site~

The perfect site is quiet and sunny with a protective surrounding. Healthy soil built through composting and organic/natural means will minimize insect problems, weeds, and worry of doing harm to the mother earth.

A good question to ask yourself is this: Do I want a kitchen garden close by the kitchen door – or do I want a retreat garden away from the activities of the household.

You can have both if time and space permit…otherwise you must make a choice. Either will flourish within these guidelines.

You should have spaces that offer support for climbing or top heavy plants, good drainage, some shelter from the wind, and at least 6 to 7 hours of sun a day.

Designing Your Garden~

Formal or informal…the style of your neighborhood or home may help you decide on this. It’s strictly a personal choice and you will be happiest if you follow that line of planning.

Drawing Your Plan On Paper~

Depending on the size and location, having your plan on paper will help you avoid mistakes that don’t line up with your surrounding yard and home – considerations such as driveways, decks, trees, etc., are important.

If raised beds are in your plan, the best thought with those are no more than 4 or 5 feet across. Makes for easy work and brings the view into focus quickly.

Paths are another point to consider and should always be changing direction, have a break in the flow to encourage lingering. A bench, sculpture, or a very tall herb, something rare or out of the norm will stop viewers and invite conversation.

A major point for consideration is overcrowding. While herbs are happy close in to their companions, too close will lead to an unsightly look and or extra work in transplanting.

So know the herbs you are planting, the size at maturity, and the easy and results of having to move or prune them.

Rosemary, thyme, lavender, even basil, can be manipulated to grow in different shapes or forms but, keep in mind that they all do their best when allowed to grow in their natural direction.

Theme Gardens~

When planning a large herb garden consider the idea of small theme gardens inside the larger plan. A Chinese medicinal grouping, herbs known for their aromatic favors, herbs that glow under the moonlight, and of course those that work overtime to attract bees and butterflies.

I love the idea of a Children’s Garden, a place where all the plants are pretty, are all safe to pick and eat at will, and will invite activity and also encourage a single focus.

A maze layout works very well for a garden dedicated to children.

Biblical And Literary Gardens~

Should in my opinion follow a more formal design: the Elizabethan style is perfect, with clipped knots of evergreen shrubs and a pretty stone sculpture in the center.

Note: There are no hard and fast rules with herb gardens, as long as you give them a fair amount of love and attention they will reward you with double fold delight.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Lavender Facts

Lavenders are all members of the same botanical genus: Lavandula. There are about 28 species of lavender, and each one is distinguished from one another by a different species name. For instance, Lavandula viridis, Lavandula lanata, Lavandula dentata.

lavender2The most popular lavenders fall into two basic groups. The first are all cultivars of the species Lavandula angustifolia and are often called English lavenders. Some books use the names L. vera or L. officinalis for English lavender, but both names are incorrect. The second group is made up of hybrids between the English lavenders and another species, Lavandula latifolia, and is called the lavandins (L. x intermedia).

Both of these groups have gray/green foliage, make nice low shrubs, and are hardy down to about USDA Zone 5. They prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. All are fragrant, and though the compositions of their essential oils do differ, it is difficult for most people to tell them apart by their scents.

The biggest differences between them are in their heights, flower colors, the size of the flower heads, and the time of blooms. The English lavenders tend to bloom in early summer, the lavandins in midsummer. The darkest flower colors are among the English lavenders, while the tallest plants, the longest flower stems, and the largest flower heads are among the lavandins.

The biggest killers of lavenders are root-rotting diseases, which proliferate in high humidity and wet soils. These are especially a problem for the English and lavandins. If you live in a humid area, like the Southeast, give your plants as much air circulation as possible. Don’t crowd them in because if one plant catches a disease, it can easily be transferred to the others if too close together.

Don’t use organic mulches around lavender; try pea gravel or white sand. Increase your drainage by planting in mounds or raised beds, and incorporate crushed granite, like chicken grit, into the top 12″ of the soil.

The soil should be slightly acidic. Though lavenders don’t require a lot of fertilizer, some should be added each spring. Chicken manure actually has a fungal deterring component and is especially safe to use.

The easiest lavenders to grow in hot, problem areas are the French (L. dentata), Spanish (L. stoechas), and the hybrids ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’, L. x heterophylla and L. x allardii. These are also some of the best lavenders for containers, and all but the Spanish will bloom nearly year-round if given enough warmth and sunlight.

Happy cooking!

Bea Kunz

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