Garden Lessons:Not All Broccoli is Created Equal

Cross-posted at Eating Well Magazine.

And here, for all these years, I thought raised beds were the way to go…

Should I give my lettuce more room?

I’m reading an interesting (and controversial) book about gardening in post-peak-oil times: Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon. He  would have me abandon my intensive gardening techniques including the raised beds (the soil dries out too much), leave more space around each plant (so they don’t compete for water and nutrients), and prepare my garden far more carefully than I have (to give the plants what they really need).  It’s a fascinating and unsettling read. I really need to rethink some of my practices–and in m book it’s always a good thing to be challenged and stretched. The book already has me planning to make his brew of Complete Organic Fertilizer and try it out on all the unplanted beds.  And I am playing around with some new beds prepared according to his system.

Just how nutrient rich is this bean?

The most interesting–and startling– point he’s made thus far (I’m only through the first couple of chapters), is about  the actual nutrient values of vegetables grown well versus those grown haphazardly.  Ack–my carrots might not carry as much vitamin goodness as I had thought?! My kale might not be as super a food as I had assumed?

And I was certain that if I grew my own food and paid attention to the shelf life of nutrients when I buy food, as Eating Well urges, I’d be fine.  I do think that  the vegetables from my garden are filled with incredible health benefits for my family.   But I can probably do even better. Eating Well’s article last summer on spinach gaining more nutrients when displayed under flourescent lights really makes sense now.  Not all broccoli is created equal.

Essentially, the message is–plan, plan well, and do the right thing for your vegetables and herbs by giving them complete organic fertilizer if you want them to be nutrient rich. And know your garden inhabitants–which demand rich soil, which don’t.  That I can do.

Last day of April

To Raise Beds or Not...

But I’m not giving up my raised beds–not for anything in these clay soils.  Yes, they’re pretty and echo cloister gardens (one of my design models), but I use raised beds not for their good looks but to begin the process of improving the soils.  But it’s useful to be pressed to defend their use.  This book is calling all kinds of current practices into question–it’s keeping me up late at night thinking, reflecting, re-planning!  When articles such as The Atlantic’s Farming in a Time of Climate Collapse describe the drastic shifts farmers need to make in conserving water and using far less of it, I’m paying attention to books like this that are trying to create a blueprint for the gardening of now.

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Categories: Eating Well Blog, Garden, lessons

7 Comments on “Garden Lessons:Not All Broccoli is Created Equal”

  1. April 21, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    Soloman’s book is one we rely on heavily. CoF works well, as does giving plants enough room. It takes a lot of space, which means we have to constantly expand plots: hauling out rocks, bringing down trees.

    I admire your self-scrutiny, Barbara.

    • April 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

      So good to know, Bryan. You must have been holding your tongue every time you came down the mountain and looked into my crowded garden beds! This means I have many more beds to dig!

  2. April 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Thanks for the tip on the book. I’m faced with a short growing season in my new location–our average date of last frost is May 9–and I don’t have the space to start things indoors, so I’m trying to learn all I can about gardening in this region.

    I just glanced at the Google book excerpts, and I see Solomon recommends blood and bone mixtures. As a vegetarian, I’m not willing to toss animal parts in my garden to fertilize my veggies. Do you know of an alternative that’s similarly nutrient-rich, or does the book go into alternatives?

  3. April 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    So great to hear from you. Our last frost date is mid to late May (i.e. it is snowing right now as I write), and yet I get a lot of seed-planted (rather than transplanting my seedlings) vegetables out of the garden. It can be done!

    Here’s what Solomon says about not using tankage: …the only consequence will be that your COF will be slightly lower in nitrates, requiring that you use a bit more of it to the get the same growth response.” p.23 That’s what I plan to do!

    Good luck with the Idaho gardening–yet another thing to get used to after California. Hope you blog about it.

  4. Shirley Wallace
    April 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    I have noticed that store bought fruit like strawberries and blue berries have a much longer shelf life than just a few years ago. Is that because of improvements in growing and harvesting or is it bacause they are zapped with radiation to kill anything that might be living on them? Do you know anything about or have an opinion about this fanomina. The only fruit I grow is raspberries. I am thinking about planting two apple trees. Do you have a favorit? Do you know if both trees have to be the same for polination?

  5. April 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Hi Shirley,

    That’s a great question about the increasing shelf life of berries — I’ll have to look into it more but I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of breeding for storage (new hybrids being developed) and improved storage conditions. Some places do some zapping, too. I’ll see what I can find out.

    As for apples, choosing a good variety depends a great deal on where you are. There are the ubiquitous varieties–red delicious, Macintosh, etc. but I grow heirloom varieties that have been in New England a long long time. I just planted a Black Oxford apple from Maine. FEDCO has amazing apples, and though you can’t order them again until next year, their online catalog is a treasure trove of information: (They ARE having a tree sale on May 6 if you’re anywhere close to Maine.)
    I would contact your local ag extension agent and ask which apples do particularly well in your area.


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