5 Tips For Growing A Breast Cancer Food Garden

Spring Gardening Tips For Breast Cancer Food GardenBy Regina M. Dlugokencky

Growing, nurturing and harvesting one’s food can be one of the most centering and fulfilling activities in which we can engage. It offers benefits far beyond the fresh air, a hand in your own nutrition, and low-impact physical exercise and has also been found to bring psychological benefits such as mood enhancement and stress reduction, too.

The web and books at your local library hold a world of information on just about any question you may have about gardening. Gardening classes are popping up everywhere and you can even hire a garden coach to get you off to a confident start.

Most importantly, remember that Mother Nature can be a pretty forgiving lady.
So, don’t wait! Let this be the year you go forward and garden, just keep this simple truth in mind: “things want to grow.”

There are just a few basic rules to begin your gardening adventure in the most wholesome way:

  1. Start Small and Choose the Right Site: 
    New gardeners and sage ones alike are equally guilty of taking too much on too soon. Stay focused and start slowly. Gardening should be a labor of love, but not one you’re shackled to and from which you plot escape. Consider container gardening for vegetables such as peppers and eggplants if you’re limited on space. Unless otherwise noted, site your garden where it will get full sun (6-­8 hours per day).
  2. Grow What You Love:  
    Growing a prolific but un-harvested vegetable will not only be less fulfilling, it will seem like a chore. If you have limited space, grow only your favorites and purchase the others at a local farmers’ market.
  3. Grow Organically:
    Not only will you save money on inputs that cause the environment and you some trouble, it is healthier on other levels. Organically grown vegetables have been found to be more nutrient-­dense than those conventionally grown. It just makes sense that Healthy Soil=Healthy Food=Healthy people. Soil is a living thing and healthy soil can be had with a bit of compost, kelp, and other unprocessed forms of nitrogen such as composted chicken, cow, or horse manure. (Don’t use fresh manure unless you are leaving it to age for several months before planting.)
  4. Buy Locally Grown Plants:  
    Locally grown plants are usually varieties that are acclimated to our Long Island climate, and so will likely grow happily in your garden. They also have usually been tended more carefully, than plants sold in the big box stores, which are probably from out of the area and have suffered all manner of abuse. By purchasing locally grown transplants, you are supporting local growers financially. when it is financially feasible, buy organically grown transplants.
  5. Invite Diversity:  
    Planting a variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs will guarantee success for at least a few things: a bad year for one variety will most certainly be a good one for another. Flowers and herbs attract beneficial insects like pollinators and provide habitat for predatory insects that keep those that would like to chomp on your plants in check. The Xerces Society is just one great organization that works to conserve native pollinators, check out their face sheets at http://www.xerces.org/fact-sheets

ReginaRegina M. Dlugokencky is a market gardener, garden coach, and librarian. Regina began gardening at age eight, after moving to Long Island from Brooklyn, and has been an avid organic gardener ever since. She has worked as an organic farmer for the past give years and is the founder of Seedsower Farm, LLC, of Centerport, a small, diversified business that includes growing organic vegetables and berries, seedling transplants, and provides kitchen garden coaching to gardeners of all abilities with gardens of all sizes
 

Falling For Composting

Falling For Composting For Breast CancerBy: Regina M. Dlugokencky, Gardening Coach

Itʼs November and like most of us gardeners, you might be one of those that didnʼt get to every single thing on your “to-do” list. Maybe it was building those raised beds, edging that border, planting those perennials. Whatever it is, the Autumn is still a good time to put your nose to the grindstone and get gardening!

Okay, with the shift in daylight hours you may be more inclined to crawl under the blankets and settle into much- deserved winter hibernation, and I couldnʼt blame you. But, while youʼre snug as a bug under the covers, your garden is bare, desolate, and woefully in need of a blanket, one made of compost (or at the very least, some autumn leaves)

If you donʼt already compost, here are a few great reasons why you should, and the Fall is the perfect season to begin!

Black Gold or Why Compost is King
Compost is an amazing thing. It is teeming with micro and macro organisms, bacteria and fungi. According to the website Compost Heaven (http://www.compostheaven.com/compost.html) one single teaspoon of the stuff is inhabited by “up to a billion bacteria, 440-900 feet of fungal hyphae, and 10,000 to 50,000 protozoa.” Dubbed by soil science experts as “micro-herds,” they work together to breakdown organic matter, recycle nutrients, and create humus.    Humus (not to be confused with Hummus!) is a dark colored, super stable, nutrient rich material that is essential to soil fertility.

High quality compost is among the best things you can work into your garden beds; it can remediate soil, improve drainage, as well as increase nutrient and water retention. It has also been found to help suppress diseases and pests, and best of all reduce the need for fertilizers. Add to these reasons the concept of keeping valuable organic “feedstock” such as vegetable scraps, grass clipping, leaves (yes leaves!) out of landfill and youʼve got some powerful incentives to begin to compost yourself.

Gimmie Shelter For Breast Cancer Composting

Gimme Shelter
Good gardeners (and farmers) know that bare soil is an affront to good soil management. Bare soil is not only susceptible to the vagaries of erosion, it also leads to soil nutrient leaching (a growing problem that shows up as dead zones in our waterways). Whether you plant a cover crop, mulch with leaves, straw or use compost, the important concept is to avoid bare soil. The garden bed layered with that beautiful black gold will warm up faster in the Spring than one left uncovered, and will improve the nutrition of whatever you plant. One caveat is that you must wait until the ground freezes before mulching, so that the soil temperature remains stable and fluctuations donʼt occur.

Compost Happens
Itʼs just a matter of time as to when your compost is ready, and
from personal experience, one could layer your compost up, sprinkle it with water every week or so, and get compost even if one never turns it. Not even once! With time, hose hardworking micro-herds will do all the work. If you give them a little more oxygen (by turning your pile), then theyʼll work a bit faster. If not, then theyʼll work at a natural pace–either way youʼll end up with some nice rich compost in the end.

Build it and they will come
Similar to making a seven layer dip, but with a lot less effort, a compost pile or bin is easier to make than you might otherwise think. All you need is a space that is reasonably close to a water source, out of the blazing sun (part shade is nice), and out of sight. A four by four space is the perfect dimension to start your pile, bin, or what have you. Bigger is not better, so if you think youʼll really be digging this composting thing, plan your space for two or three. A four by four bin will build up sufficient heat to get your compost cooking, while bins of larger or smaller dimensions will not.

The “structure” you use can be as low tech as simply alternately piling up each layer in a mound, or you can get fancier with sides made out of wire, wood or cinder blocks or buy pre-fab compost bins that neaten things up. There are many types of bins to choose from, but for a long-term investment, avoid wooden bins, which (by necessity are untreated) will eventually rot. If you worry about rats or other varmints, you can reduce their presence by keeping those foods on the “donʼt” list out of your compost and by keeping the pile wet like a wrung out sponge. Remember to bury the latest kitchen contribution within the pile and adding some compost from last season or ordinary garden soil, to make it less appealing.

If you think about it, even a rat wouldnʼt find a damp space like your compost pile hospitable enough to take residence in. Also remember that rats and all other four legged critters we share this planet with are an integral part of the food web. Owls, hawks and the other wild critters that prey on them will keep the odd rat or two in check with no problem.

Recipe for Success
What will go into the mix are simply two types of materials composed of nitrogen (greens) and carbon (browns). Layer these up as you go. By shooting for a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of 30:1 youʼll be providing your micro-herds the right food in the right balance to break down organic matter. There are many great resources on what can be composted and what canʼt, but here is a quick rundown of them. Remember to keep your pile moist like a wrung out sponge and youʼll be on your way!

Do Compost:

Brown Matter

  • Leaves, straw (not hay!)
  • Brown Paper, Paper rolls, newspaper
  • Spent Potting mix
  • Soil

Green Matter

  • Grass Clippings
  • Vegetable + Fruit trimmings
  • Coffee Grinds/Tea Bags
  • Crushed Egg Shells

Don’t Compost:

  • Aluminum, tin or other meta
  • Glass
  • Dairy products (butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) & eggs
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • Greasy or oily foods
  • Meat or seafood scraps
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
  • Soiled diapers
  • Plastic
  • Stickers from fruits or vegetables (to prevent litter)
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
  • Roots of perennial weeds
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Fire starter logs
  • Treated or painted wood

Rather than making numerous trips out to the compost to dispose of your kitchen scraps, there are many styles of compost containers that let you build up a stash for a week or so. Choose one that you can easily fit under your sink, or one you wouldnʼt mind on your counter and youʼll be set to begin collecting.

A well-balanced compost pile with sufficient airflow through will be odorless and the resulting finished compost will be soil-like in texture with an aroma of good earth.

Composting Leaves For Breast CancerLeave ʻem there:
Before you run out and get your hands dirty, I must make this last appeal. Have you ever stepped into a woodland setting and wondered why these natural places are so lush with plants and life? Once we acknowledge that no “gardener” weeds, waters or fertilizes, we are naturally left to wonder how this happens?

Hereʼs how: leaves, those awesome solar energy collectors are full of nutrients, and those leaves that are dropping to the ground right about now serve as wonderful mulch to the trees and shrubs that they once adorned. Besides insulating root systems from winter chill, fallen leaves actually temper both high and low temper extremes and also maintain a level of moisture, and the thicker the mulch, the better protection. Like all things once living, when the leaves come into contact with the soil (and its attendant micro-herds), they begin to decompose and release nutrients back into the soil, creating truly fertile ground for the root system to re-uptake when the Treeʼs winter slumber is over. Simply put, leaves are natureʼs blanket and are a valuable addition to your landscape.

So whether you are of the mind to work your micro-herds, or simply let them be, remember that compost, leaves and mulch are among the greatest gifts for an organic gardener.
Go forth and compost!

More information on composting and the benefits to your garden, the environment and your health is abundant here are a few to get you started:

  1. http://www.epa.gov/composting/basic.htm http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/greenscapes/pubs/compost-guide.pdf
  2. Dig in to more resources: General Composting info
    http://www.compostheaven.com
  3. DIY Compost Bins
    http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/4-diy-compost-bins-you-can-build-one-day-video.html
  4. Kitchen Garden International
    http://kgi.org/search/node/compost

Get Gardening!

By Regina M. Dlugokencky

Whether you are a seasoned grower or not, this is the perfect time to begin to garden.

Get Gardening 1

Soil temperatures have warmed enough to receive many crops and the threat of a frost has greatly diminished with the passing of the last Full Moon.

Even Super-­storm Sandy has given the go-­ahead
to get your hands into the soil with the offer of a silver lining: more light penetration from fallen trees. Formerly sunlight-­deprived and would-­be gardeners alike now have opportunity of starting a garden.

Just do it!  

There are just a few basic rules to begin your gardening adventure in the most wholesome way:

Grow Organically.

Not only will you save money on inputs that cause the environment and you some trouble, it is healthier on other levels. Organically grown vegetables have been found to be more nutrient-­dense than those conventionally grown. It just makes sense that Healthy Soil=Healthy Food=Healthy people.

Soil is a living thing and healthy soil can be had with a bit of compost, kelp, and other unprocessed forms of nitrogen such as composted chicken, cow, or horse manure. (Don’t use fresh manure unless you are leaving it to age for several months before planting.)

pH:

The alkalinity most preferred by veggies is between 6.0 + 7.5. If you don’t know your soil’s pH, it can be tested now and corrected slowly over time. Cornell Cooperative Extension tests soil for as little as $5 (http://ccesuffolk.org/soil-­testing-­laboratory).

Start small and choose the right site.    

Get Gardening 2New gardeners and sage ones alike are equally guilty of taking too much on too soon. Stay focused and start slowly. Gardening should be a labor of love, but not one you’re shackled to and from which you plot escape. Consider container gardening for vegetables such as peppers and eggplants if you’re limited on space. Unless otherwise noted, site your garden where it will get full sun (6-­8 hours per day).

Grow what you love.    

Growing a prolific but un-harvested vegetable will not only be less fulfilling, it will seem like a chore. If you have limited space, grow only your favorites and purchase the others at a local farmers’ market.

Buy Locally Grown Plants:   

Locally grown plants are usually varieties that are acclimated to our Long Island climate, and so will likely grow happily in your garden. They also have usually been tended more carefully, than plants sold in the big box stores, which are probably from out of the area and have suffered all manner of abuse. By purchasing locally grown transplants, you are supporting local growers financially. when it is financially feasible, buy organically grown transplants.

Invite diversity:    

Get Gardening 1

Planting a variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs will guarantee success for at least a few things: a bad year for one variety will most certainly be a good one for another. Flowers and herbs attract beneficial insects like pollinators and provide habitat for predatory insects that keep those that would like to chomp on your plants in check. The Xerces Society is just one great organization that works to conserve native pollinators, check out their face sheets at http://www.xerces.org/fact-sheets

Get off the Fence:

If you’re a new gardener don’t worry that you won’t be successful. Even a seasoned gardener has good and bad years, and will tell you that every year is different. When working with nature there’s always a lesson to be learned, so don’t despair if everything doesn’t turn out as you planned.
Gardening is as much an art as it is a science: keep a journal to note what worked and what didn’t and take those lessons with you for next season.
Growing, nurturing and harvesting one’s food can be one of the most centering and fulfilling activities in which we can engage. It offers benefits far beyond the fresh air, a hand in your own nutrition, and low-impact physical exercise and has also been found to bring psychological benefits such as mood enhancement and stress reduction, too.
The web and books at your local library hold a world of information on just about any question you may have about gardening. Gardening classes are popping up everywhere and you can even hire a garden coach to get you off to a confident start.
Most importantly, remember that Mother Nature can be a pretty forgiving lady.
So, don’t wait! Let this be the year you go forward and garden, just keep this simple truth in mind: “things want to grow.”
Get Gardening!
Regina M. Dlugokencky is a market gardener, garden coach, and librarian. Regina began gardening at age eight, after moving to Long Island from Brooklyn, and has been an avid organic gardener ever since. She has worked as an organic farmer for the past give years and is the founder of Seedsower Farm, LLC, of Centerport, a small, diversified business that includes growing organic vegetables and berries, seedling transplants, and provides kitchen garden coaching to gardeners of all abilities with gardens of all sizes
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