Strung out, druggie tomato plant vs. Organically grown tomato plant (pix!)

The difference is astounding!


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these two sum up what I’ve believed for a long time.  The plant you see on the left is a Cherokee Purple tomato seedling purchased from Lowes.  It was strung out on commercial/chemical fertilizer and was twice as big as any of my seedlings when I bought it.  I transplanted it into our no-till garden, fed it organically and I think it has actually shrunk in the past couple of weeks.  The plant you see on the right is a Cherokee Purple tomato plant that I grew from seed on a strict organic compost diet.  It was twice as small as the plant on the left two weeks ago.

Folks, this is what happens when we create toxic mimics of our food.  The seedling on the left, because it became so chemically dependent in its infancy for the quick fix/chemical nitrogen…

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Art of a Seedling

Winter.  It’s winter.  Yeah, it’s been winter for awhile, a very wintry winter at that.  Snow is everywhere, always.  At least that’s what it seems.  Everybody’s ready for Spring, and though I don’t like to wish my life away, the anticipation for warmer/sunnier days is bubbling, boiling, seething.  It’s easy to get lost in gray days, spanning out like a snow-covered highway for eons, but there are little things that can keep us grounded in the moment, like a seedling.

Last week I planted some onion, cauliflower, and pepper seeds and the cauliflower shot up!  This is my first time planting a cold weather sort of seed, and observing its glorious green head pop out of the peat aloft its lanky stalk brought me a giddy joy similar to the overwhelming-bursting-out-of-me-mesmorizing-joy I had upon observing Monets lillies, in person. A reminder that life is indeed still with us resting, sleeping until warmer days arrive. Then, setting to work with focused attention and a pallete of green, the world will awaken in a burst.  It’s a cyclical art. One I appreciate more each year.


Frozen World

A frozen world is nothing less than coffee and bird seed

It’s nothing more than a drift of snow against the backside of a pond dam

and a cardinal, blood-red sailing through the sno-cone cedars.

Ice razor thin, sporting a blinding white coat

littered with tracks of fumbling mammalians and 3-toed birds

searching for an inviting hole in an oak tree

to spoon around leaf litter or some remnant feathers

until the deafening silence of snowfall is muted

by the world starting its engine again.



Dirrrrrty : 90’s (early 2000’s?) Pop meets No-Till

“Wanna get a little bit Dirrrrty, get fired up in a hurry!”  I started singing this awesome 90’s Aguillera song after I examined the soil in my no-till garden yesterday.  I’ll admit it.  I had pretty decent soil to start with.  A sort of Ozark meets the prairie soil; good organic matter, but man, oh, man!  After no-till last year, I have so many little worms and microorganisms working over the area, things are ’bout to get real.  Check out this topsoil!  ( Oh and don’t mind the crazy huge picture – WordPress picture manager is jacking up again, think I’m going to have to fork over some dough and pay for a legit blog).

Anyway you can see some of the woodchips that I used for mulch.  A lot of folks said the woodchips would leach nitrogen from the plants.  Didn’t happen.  And I put a shit-ton of woodchips down so if it was going to happen it would’ve happened.  The wood chips DID however help minimize the weeds in between rows and around the plants. 

So let’s go over what we did last year and we’re going to do different this year:

1.  We amended the soil with some lime before layering- the soil was slightly acidic (around a 6.5 ) so I figured a little lime couldn’t hurt.  We didn’t add it scientifically, we just scattered a couple bags throughout the gardening area.

2.  Next we layered the garden area with newspapers to kill off the weeds- originally we were going to layer the entire area then we had the not-so-bright-idea of just layering the rows we were going to plant in- this gave us issues later when the weeds took over in between the rows and started encroaching on our plants.  This year- we’ll layer the entire area with newspapers and we’ll do double the layer we did last year. 

3. Next we covered the newspapers with compost.  Last year we used seasoned cow manure- this year I’m hoping to use a mixture of turkey manure and our own compost we’ve been brewing for a year or so.  Then we covered everything with straw and because we have a crazy prairie wind I added water just to give a little weight to the straw and embed it a bit in the compost mixture.  It worked better than I expected even after the straw had dried, as most of it lodged itself cozily within the manure.

4.  Next we let everything “cook.”  Technically there wasn’t a lot of “cooking” going on because it was wintertime, but still yet there was some microbial action going on.

5.  By the time spring came around we could plant our seedlings directly into the substrate (creating a small hole through the newspaper layer).  When I dug my first hole for a tomato seedling and witnessed my first worm orgy I felt giddy inside (and a lil’ Dirrrty).


6.  We tried to make up for our newspaper error by adding woodchips in between the rows (lucky for us the city of Monett sells truckloads of woodchips for super super cheap!) but it was too late.  The weeds had spoken.  Regardless, we still had a great stand of veggies.  I think this year, if we can minimize the weeds a bit more, our plants will be even more beautiful!  We may still use woodchips this year to do weed spot maintenance but hopefully our newspapers will take care of the majority. 

And that’s basically the gist of our no-till garden.  People constantly ask “why no-till?”  Well, I subscribe to the philosophy that there is an entire universe under our feet.  Just as there’s an entire universe out in the cosmos and in the oceans (and even on our skin, our tongue, and on our toes if you wanna get super microcosmic!) .  I believe the underground universe has its own balanced ecosystem that can be tweaked for whatever type of gardening you want to do.  I also believe completely up-heaving that universe (tilling) disrupts the natural processes that are supposed to be taking place.  A lot of people say you need to till to aerate the soil- I say: worms are natural aerators, why not provide a suitable environment for them and let them do the work?  No-till is a long-term investment in your land and your soil.  Each year you add, you add, you add and those additions multiply and make your soil better than ever.  NOt just because you add compost or provide dead/dying matter in the form of weed roots- but because you create an environment worthy of the microorganisms that fix all the nutrients your plants need NATURALLY.

In contrast, conventional agriculture takes away.  You till, you take away the natural balance of the microorganisms.  You add chemical fertilizer and pesticide and the lacewings leave.  The worms bail.  Your microorganisms die.  You continue to take away until the soil is sterile and your garden is nothing more than a chemical mimic of a real garden.  And you keep adding expensive chemical treatments to eek out some chemical tomatoes.

But what do I know.  This is only my second year in.  And I believe it now more than ever.  Especially after seeing the predator insects like lacewings and ladybugs that came in, set up shop, and worked over the aphids.  Spiders spun their webs and had their babies in the garden and a eastern red-sided garter  snake even frequented our garden to take care of the grasshoppers!  We are still eating the last of our tomatoes at the beginning of December and we had our first tomato by the middle of July, even though we had our last snow in May.

I’m ready to get Dirrrrty this year and continue preaching the gospel of no-till.

And the soil shall set you free brothers and sisters!

Dead Hawk Suburbia

So I found a dead hawk while I was out running today and took a picture.  Morbid?  Maybe.  Yeah, probably.  I don’t like seeing dead hawks (or owls, or snakes, etc.) but I was excited to get a close look at this creature.  My only regret is my lack of picture-taking skills  See, one of my passions is ornithology.  And if I see a hawk with a fanned tail I automatically assume it’s a red-tailed hawk because hawks are so darn difficult to identify in flight!  This one appears to be a juvenile red-shouldered hawk (in the process of having this confirmed by a professional).Image

The irony is that I found this hawk in town.  Irony I guess because I live out in the country, run here all the time, and have never seen a dead hawk.  Maybe this is because the scavenger critters converge and consume before I have the opportunity to take pictures.

You see a lot of death when you farm.  We haven’t mapped our  farm-animal future yet except for chickens.  Def getting chickens next year (Geez I kind of sound chicken-obsessed after my last blog!)  I meandered again.  I witnessed death this year, nonetheless.  Death of my tomatoes (and other annuals but I had a special relationship with my tomato plants), trees losing their leaves and going dormant (which is sort of like a yearly death/rebirth), grass turning brown.  But  no matter how many deaths we witness, how much good life we see leave from this world, there is something to be learned.

So here’s to you dead hawk in suburbia

*raising glass of Pinot*

I learned that you juvenile red-shoulders have less red on the shoulders, you have thin bands on your tail and if you are of the subspecies lineatus, chances are you have a red patch near the wingtip (see pic).  I learned that people in a small town are infinitely interested in people who take pictures of roadkill and that you’re within your range but according to Petersons field guide you are “uncommon” which is even more of a bummer if you are what I think you are.  I learned that death is a necessity but hopelessness is not.

After stewing over your species I walked outside to the cool night air and heard, for the first time EVER (or at least the first time I’ve recognized their call) two screech owls yammering in our woods.  Life sure goes on, doesn’t it? Even in the middle of this dying world, it goes on.  Pretty damn bitching.

Adventure in whole(some) chickens

I’ve been gone awhile- gardening, raising a child, and being a slacker blogger.  I hope to catch all of you up this winter and get some tips from you all as we solidify our master plan for next year (which includes more bees, sorghum, veggies, herbs, and CHICKENS!!)

scrumptious chicken stock!

scrumptious chicken stock!

Speaking of chickens, here’s a tip for eating free range, antibiotic-free- chicken-on-the-relatively-cheap.  First splurge on that no-antibiotic, free-range whole chicken.  It’s much cheaper than buying breasts when you consider the amount of meat you get, plus the meat tastes a whole lot better when it cooks inside the skin! The whole chicken makes about 4 meals (way cheaper than 4 meals at Mcdonalds, and a helluva lot better for you!) , then you get the bonus of using the bones for chicken stock, so technically  you can count the price of the chicken towards at least 4 more meals 🙂

I’m cooking up some chicken stock today for use in a potato kale soup tonight.  Added rosemary, thyme, cilantro, and bay leaves along with the standard spices/veggies and it’s amazingly aromatic!  Hmmmm does this mean you can also count the expense of the chicken toward your air-freshener’s?  No need for smell-good candles with this scrumptious scent permeating the house!