How To Do Things: Fertilize Organically

A good time to add amendments to your garden soil is when you are preparing your beds for spring. Loosening and aerating the soil while incorporating amendments mixes everything together well, knocking off two tasks at once.

But what sort of amendments should you add? Short of taking a soil sample and sending it in for a complete analysis and set of recommendations (which is what we do here at the farm), the best solution I have found for the home gardener is to utilize the recipe for Steve Solomon’s “Complete Organic Fertilizer,” taken from his book The Intelligent Gardener.

On the up side, the recipe is adaptable, and it provides a nice range of nutrients. The down side is that some of the ingredients might take a little looking to find. (I have found them at various co-ops and agricultural supply stores, but I’ve never looked to see if they’re stocked at local garden centers.)

What about compost, you might ask. Yup, use that, too—it’s going to add organic matter and improve your soil’s texture, as well as provide some nutrients. But to ensure your plants are getting the full profile of what they need, I think it’s best to fortify your compost application with the sort of amendments Solomon’s recipe provides.

The New Victory Gardens

Maybe you’ve heard how the pandemic has inspired folks to put in gardens this season. Maybe you’re even one of those so inspired. Some have named these “Doomsday Gardens,” which is a little dark for me—I much prefer “New Victory Gardens,” after the old victory gardens from another national crisis, the Second World War.

I’m assuming many who are planting these gardens are newbies, which I think is great, and I wish them all success this season. But there’s a steep learning curve, and I hope they don’t get discouraged when things go awry. (And in a garden something always goes awry.)

And as a primer for how to get started, I came across a great little article in the Washington Post that walks through all the basics, plus offers a few additional resources. I’m going to strive over the course of the season to post good resources here as well. So godspeed you, newbies, and remember: The best fertilizer is the footsteps of the gardener.

How To Do Things: Growing Green Garlic

One of the earlier—and perhaps more unfamiliar—crops you can plant in your vegetable garden is green garlic, sometimes also called spring garlic.

Green garlic is simply immature garlic plants harvested early (April to May here in zone 6a), when they are about the diameter of a pencil. Bon Appetit states that “the immature garlic bulbs and edible green stalks have an amazing nutty-oniony flavor that is great fresh or cooked,” and who am I to argue with Bon Appetit? Use them wherever you would use onions, scallions, or leeks.

On the farm, I have found that green garlic is a great way to utilize the smallest garlic heads (around here called dinkers, or dinks, or el dinkerinos when we’re not into the whole brevity thing), heads that are not suitable for seed, for distribution through the CSA, or for sale at farmers’ market, and that would otherwise go to waste. I imagine it would also be a good way to use up heads in the root cellar in late spring that are about to or already have sprouted. For the home grower, most any variety of garlic will work for green garlic, though do be wary of conventionally grown garlic heads. These are often sprayed with a chemical to inhibit their sprouting and won’t grow when planted, so be sure to stick with stuff that’s organically grown.

For earliest farmers’ market sales, I will plant the cloves in mid- to late fall, the same time as the garlic I grow for mature heads. If I am planning to distribute the green garlic through the CSA, however, I will plant in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked, which makes sure they are ready to be harvested the first weeks of June. So it’s not too late for you to plant green garlic in your garden right now.

When planting, I simply put the whole head of garlic in the ground, root end down, about two inches deep and six inches apart, in four rows also about six inches apart. (This is the same spacing I use for the rest of the garlic.) You can certainly tighten this plant spacing, up to three inch spacing in rows three inches apart. I plant whole heads so I can harvest them in market-ready bunches, thus saving time, but you might find it more convenient to harvest the green garlic a single plant or two at a time. In that case, break the head apart into individual cloves (a process called “popping”) and plant each one root end down, pointy end up, at the depth and spacing discussed above.

Green garlic is delicious, and a welcome vegetable at a time when green things for the table can be scarce. I hope you will give growing it a shot. Happy gardening!

Work Is Balm

I am struggling to find something to say in this moment. I want to write something true and urgent and inspiring. I would like to write that I am rising to the occasion—the heroic farmer, toiling on in the teeth of the plague.

The truth is, like everyone else, I am muddling through. Trying to get my work done. Trying to be resilient and generous and cheerful. Sometimes, even succeeding.

Luckily, the farm work is always there. Though the state has been in lockdown since Tuesday before last, farmers are considered essential personnel, so our work will go on apace. I was about to write that it will go on without hindrance, but that clearly will not be the case. Since January I have had all the supplies I will need to get the season going, but what it will take to keep the season going remains to be seen. But pandemic or no, my calling is to grow food for people. So that is what I am going to do, for as long as I can do it.

To be honest, thinking about farming through this crisis can be overwhelming. But a curious thing: When I stop thinking about the work and start doing the work, actually sinking my hands into the potting soil, pressing the little seeds into nursery flats, rooting cuttings, sprouting rhizomes—all the jobs required to make the springtime farm go—my troubled mind settles into the rhythm of the day’s work, and I am better.

The work is a balm. It gets me out of my head and into the world. That’s an old, old remedy, of course, at least as old as the fourth century, and I am grateful for it. May you find it too.