Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gardening for Geeks by Christy Wilhelmi

Occasionally I will encounter a gardening book that will present completely new or detailed information that is not found in many other places. But for the most part, when I pick up a gardening book, I often find the book catalogues the ideas presented by others in various books and publications rather than introduce a new concept. Although Gardening for Geeks by Christy Wilhelmi fits much more into the second category than the first, it is still worth a read. Much of what I read in this book, although compiled from other works, included some good summaries of already existing reading material.
It was definitely worth looking through this book.
Even though many of the gardening methods presented in this book, including square-foot gardening, are really good sometimes I wonder how much they get what happens in my region, such as the high potential for insects and disease to completely wipe out a bed of lettuce or tomato plants. It is not that writers of gardening publications are purposefully misguiding readers, but when you live in an extreme climate it can be easy to feel that garden book authors just don’t get it. That being said, some of the biointensive methods, such as the French Intensive, hexigonal planting  and the 60:30:10 method really interested me. Even without knowing much about the French intensive method before digging my 24 inch deep mostly compost beds, it seems as if I am doing many of the same things that the French intensive method promotes.

The most helpful bit of information I learned about was from a book called How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. According to Jeavons (as cited by Wilhelmi) a gardener can make their garden much more sustainable if they grow utilizing a 60:30:10 formula for sustainability. The premise of this sustainability formula is to have the land produce food for both the gardener and the garden. Apparently it should be able to produce enough food for one person by utilizing only 4,000 square feet of garden space. The way this formula works is to commit 60% of garden space to crops that return large amounts of carbon and nitrogen back into the soil such as grains, fava beans and cover crops to create mostly biomass to be composted and some food. At the same time, 30% of the garden should be designated for high-calorie crops, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and Jerusalem Artichokes. Lastly, Jeavons says that 10% of the garden space/time can be devoted to tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuce, carrots, etc.

My high-calorie sweet potato crop knows no bounds as it grows into the alley. (=

While I have slowly moved towards a method like John Jeavons’ biointensive method I never thought that it could be related to biomass. Many of the 60 and 30% crops deserve more time and room in the garden because they are much less work for the organic gardener in relation to pests and disease than because they “environmentally friendly”. Though most intensive gardeners may scoff at the idea of dedicating so much of their plots to corn and potatoes, perhaps they will decide to raise more grain and high-calorie crops when times get tough and they require a garden that is more self-sufficient.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Admiring the Mighty Luffa

During the time in which I am waiting for my winter garden to grow and my summer garden to freeze I occasionally visit other gardener's plots to observe what they are growing. Recently, while walking around the Tucson Organic Garden (TOG) plot located near central Tucson I noticed that most of the summer plants were gone and small winter beds were still in their infancy. Amidst the younger plants was a plot that seemed to still be growing a summer crop. In this plot there was one plant which displayed interesting leaves, which from the distance resembled grape vines, that immediately caught my attention. This mighty plant was none other than the luffa gourd.

The Mighty Luffa Gourd

The majority of the plants that grow like weeds here in Tucson either produce thorns or are generally unpalatable. This is definitely one good reason to initially be hesitant of this plant’s taste and texture. Besides, this plant is used for making natural sponges just as often as it is used for making food.

The Luffa Gourd plant looks a little like Grapevines
It seems that the bees really enjoy the luffa flowers

Though I have heard that the luffa fruit is very light and spongy in texture and is similar to squash in taste, I am currently of the mindset to not attempt sauté up a luffa for dinner. Knowing that my children are reluctant to try eggplant, perhaps the best approach is to ask someone with experience in growing and cooking this vegetable up to invite me over for a sample before I commit to growing this vegetable.
An immature Luffa

Though my instincts tell me that this plant may require lot of preparation in cooking for a decent taste to be achieved, I am awed by the beautiful appearance of the leaves and fruit that this vegetable produces.
The Luffa Gourd flowers are very pretty