The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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In this time of the Anthropocene, when human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, stories about biodiversity loss have become heartbreakingly common. Once limited to the occasional report of a notable megafauna—the endangerment of pandas, snow leopards, elephants—today our awareness of species engagement extends to those small and oft-taken-for-granted service workers of earth’s ancient plant propagation engine: pollinators.

Yet the very workaday nature of the wee beasts that once – to most of us—registered as no more than the movement and sound in the summer air of our backyards should tell us something of how we can help – unlike snow leopards, they live among us, so shouldn’t the opportunities to offer support lie all around us where we live and work?

For the ambitious gardener, there is nothing quite as frustrating as planting seeds that never come up. You watch and wait, and wait some more, and wait some more, and…nothing. Precious weeks can slip away before you accept that you’re going to have to replant. For any crop, this is a nuisance; for some, like long-season tomatoes or late-season broccoli, it’s a disaster.  

There are three keys to avoiding this disaster:  

  • Store your seeds properly 

  • Test their viability   

  • Replace them when its time 

Nutrition, Diabetes Management and Organic Gardening

Friends of the Homeless, located at the Worthington Street Homeless Shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts, held their Diabetes Initiative Workshops for shelter members every Tuesday at 755 Worthington Street last spring.  This season, the group wanted to include a garden; so, the sessions began outside with the small, impromptu garden created by the participants.  During the meetings, the group learned how organic gardening, healthy soil and healthy food can assist with controlling diabetes. During this class, the members were very excited about the budding cucumbers and small, green tomatoes that were appearing in the plot.

For me, the arrival of the NOFA bulk order is, like the arrival of the seed catalogs, a harbinger of spring, and an opportunity to stock up on things I know I will use all season long. The bulk order also appeals to the Yankee in me, because I know I will get great prices, especially with the member discount, and loading up my pick-up with a season’s worth of soil amendments feels like thrift rewarded. There are hundreds of items to choose from, for the back yard or the back 40. Here are some favorites of NOFA farmers this year:

Butterflies enjoying native flowers Photo credit: Caro Roszell

Communities across Massachusetts are standing up and taking action against toxic biocides and the dangers they pose to all living things-- from the smallest insect to those of us at the top of the food chain. Local leaders and concerned citizens are mounting a defense of the vulnerable members of our ecosystems, from the Statehouse to the schoolyard. 

With a raft of bills on pesticide reduction and pollinator protection before the state legislature (Pollinator Protection Act (Neonic Restrictions), Neonic Ban, Local Option on Pesticides, Protect Schoolchildren from Pesticides, Restrict Glyphosate use on Public Lands, Glyphosate Ban, Protect Groundwater from Pesticides) and with 29 Massachusetts communities that have already established some level of municipal action on pesticide reduction/pollinator protection, there is no better time to join the movement to protect our ecosystems and our health!

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

No matter how early I think about adding fall amendments, this job always falls to the bottom of the to-do list below some bigger priorities. Harvesting crops remaining in the field prior to frost, bagging up all the row covers, and removing all the poles and trellises, for example, all take precedence over the spreading of fall amendments.

Fortunately, this year I sent my soil test into Logan Labs in October, so after receiving the results, all I had to do was calculate the amendments I needed to order, order them, pick them up, and broadcast them on the fields.  If you have a Logan Labs soil test result, NOFA/Mass will analyze it and give you soil recommendations. You can see the details of that program here or check out this article to calculate your own amendment needs.  You can order a variety of soil amendments through the annual NOFA Bulk Order.

 

 

weed large garden bed

Soil test results are the key to planning your soil fertility program. Adding the right amendments in the right amount can dramatically improve your plants’ health and your garden’s productivity. But once you have your test results, it can sometimes feel daunting to figure out how much of a particular amendment you need to add to get to your goal--and I say that as a former math and chemistry teacher!

In this article, I will try to greatly simplify that process with a few conversion factors and formulas. With these, you should be able to use your results to easily figure out what you need to order—from the NOFA bulk order or elsewhere—and apply your findings to fine tune your garden’s fertility.

hoop house spinach

November brings an end to almost everything growing outside in the garden, and spring seems forever away. But if you also grow in a hoophouse, spring can be just around the corner. Plant over-wintering spinach now and get a harvest in February of what will likely be the best-tasting spinach you’ve ever grown.

Spinach is probably the most cold-hardy crop you can grow—it will survive even outside the hoophouse, under row cover laid flat on the ground (see more below). Inside the house, it will grow slowly through the next couple months, and then really begin to take off as the days lengthen in early February. What is a tiny pair of first leaves at the start of the month will grow to harvestable size by the end of it.

Ellena discusses the oats and peas cover crop

While spring planting of cover crops is not an uncommon practice on organic farms and gardens, many farmers and market gardeners are experimenting with extending cover crop overlaps with cash crops through the creative use of easy-to-manage species (field peas, buckwheat and oats, all of which can be ordered through the annual NOFA Bulk Order) and leaving them in the ground until just prior to bed planting, or even allowing them to share bed space with cash crops or new perennial plantings.

Emerging research on soil microbiology and soil carbon sequestration shows that the number of days/year that soil has living roots in the ground with photosynthesis happening (i.e. “days in living cover”), the density of living plant roots, and the diversity of species of plants present are all contributing factors in increasing soil health and building soil organic matter / soil organic carbon.

These insights from the scientific community and healthy soils movement have spurred growers to start experimenting with ways to increase living root density and species diversity on as many beds and fields as possible.  

Homestead Reflections

Today is another glorious, late summer day. It is especially a blessing in light of the recent weather-related disasters, occurring in other areas around the world.  Having these sunny days interspersed with days of gentle rain, has been great for end of garden harvesting and the re-seeding of cover crops.

Even with my scaled-back garden, there is enough abundance to fill the larder with frozen, canned, dehydrated and fermented vegetables and fruit.  And it continues to be a big fruit year. After the less than stellar spring strawberry harvest, I’m happy to report that the fruit trees have really come through.  Plums and peaches galore! We just harvested and dehydrated 15 pounds of Italian prune-plums to go along with the plum conserve and frozen & dehydrated peaches.  The pear and apple trees are also loaded with fruit waiting to ripen.  Then it’ll be more dehydrating, sauce and cider making!

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