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Chapter 18 – Organic Gardening


Organic gardening is nothing new. It is the way people grew crops for thousands of years—until the 1940s when organochlorine pesticides and artificial N-P-K fertilizers were introduced. Don’t believe the propaganda of the petrochemical companies. No pesticides are necessary. Since World War II, we have been adding poisons to our plants, and what have we accomplished? “Losses to pests ran at 6% of crops when we began to use [pesticides]. Today, pests eat 13% of our crops.” With their short life spans and fast rate of reproduction, insects rapidly become immune to pesticides. (Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, p. 391.)

A fine way to have organic vegetables is to put in your own garden and grow vegetables without chemicals, organically, and without animal-based fertilizers, veganically. In most parts of the country you can be eating out of your garden year-round. It was mid-January of 1996 when I first wrote these words, and there was parsley, kale, bok choi, fava beans, fennel, mustard greens, and collard greens growing in my garden. Leeks, onions, chives, and yellow fin potatoes will also grow right through Seattle winters—which occasionally get as cold as 20°F. Plants in the cabbage family survive even Russian winters, although there they must be cut back to the ground when the soil freezes rock solid. As soon as the temperature rises in the early spring, they jump out of the ground.

Those who have no place to grow a garden or who live in the far north where growing is impractical half the year should get into sprouting. See the Sprouting section of this book, p. 359.

Some flowers are edible—borage, nasturtiums, dandelions, pumpkin flowers, squash flowers, and evening primrose, for example—, and flowers attract the bugs that eat the bugs that otherwise would eat your vegetables.

Fresh greens from the garden can be one of life’s great experiences. After jogging in the morning, and after drinking water or juice or tea, I spoon up a bowl of wheat, barley, or rye (sprouted and cooked, or just sprouted) pour on a little flax oil, add some pumpkin seeds and/or walnuts, a dash of soy sauce, pepper, and some nutritional yeast. I take it out to the garden where I browse like a herbivore, eating leaves right off the plants without even washing them—a good way to get your vitamin B-12.

I graze on whatever is growing: lettuce, kale, collards, mustard, parsley, broccoli leaves and flowers, cauliflower leaves and flowers, nasturtium, mint, oregano, and chickweed, and eat them with my sprouted grain. I break off tasty little squashes and squash flowers and eat them raw. This illustrates an important point: miniature vegetables and tender sprouts—the stem cells of the plant world—are only available out of a garden. Grocery stores only sell fully grown veggies. You can also graze on plants that grow wild, including the dandelion flowers that grow along your jogging route. (See “Wildman” Steve Brill’s Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild and Not-So-Wild Places and his Shoots and Greens of Early Spring.)

I sit on a stool or on the ground among the plants and look on in amazement at the plants and critters growing there. Birds visit to eat the worms and bugs. Squirrels come and climb the sunflower plants to filch the sunflower seeds. I indulge my sense of oneness with nature. The collard leaves sometimes have holes in them–the work of little slugs, but the taste is not affected at all. This is not artificially perfect produce from some commercial farm. It is my very own veganic food.

This morning (Tuesday, February 29, 2000) I left home in a hurry. I took the newspaper out of its plastic bag and filled the bag with leaves of Russian red kale, mint, and fennel. I took the bag to the office, dumped it out on the desk, and ate the contents as I worked on a legal brief.

In 2005 I grew flax for the first time. I bought a few ounces of flax seed and broadcast it. It grows around 18 inches tall and at the top it makes little blue flowers which turn into seed pods. The pods are filled with ten or twelve little flax seeds. The seeds are soft and white at first and later turn dark brown. The pods make a nice addition to your salad or stir fry. Flax oil pills are very expensive. Flax oil in a black bottle is somewhat expensive. Flax seeds are cheap. Flax grown in your yard and around your neighborhood is free once you get it started.

Food is medicine. Greens are a great source of vitamins, minerals, calcium, and roughage. They contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Eat as much as you can of your vegetables and greens raw. Cooking kills some vitamins and enzymes, although certainly not all, and cooking makes some nutrients such as beta-carotene more available. There are raw foods vegetarians who eat only fruit, nuts, and green vegetables. They eat their grains and lentils by sprouting them; no cooking is necessary.

Mustard greens are the hottest of all and my favorite. You can eat them raw if you chew them along with sprouted or cooked grain. Saliva neutralizes the heat. Steam, boil, or steam-stir fry the hotter greens such as mustard and the tougher greens such as collard. Cook them the minimum amount to soften and sweeten them. In the winter most greens become sweeter.

For the last word on organic gardening, read John Jeavons’ book, How to Grow More Vegetables and Bill Mollison’s Permaculture. Jeavons calls his method bio-intensive gardening: Never apply petrochemical fertilizers or pesticides. Grow plants close together to cool the soil and shade out weeds. In cooler climates with a relatively short growing season, start long-season and hot weather plants indoors under lights—tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and basil.

Nitrogen gets washed out and used up quickly. New plants need nitrogen. You can add cottonseed or alfalfa meal for nitrogen. Or you can make your own nitrogen and add new humus by growing nitrogen crops such as fava beans, red clover, buckwheat, vetch, beans, lentils, and peas. They “fix” nitrogen out of the atmosphere. Plant them in the fall and dig them under in the Spring, right before planting. I have sandy, rocky soil. I keep right on growing nitrogen crops in various sections of my garden all through the year.

If you want to avoid all use of manure, this is what you have to do. Grow a nitrogen crop right before planting. Green manure will grow very fast in the summer. I have around 1,400 square feet of garden, so I have the room to spare. The difference is that during the summer I focus on the nitrogen crops I can eat—peas, beans, and favas. The leaves of peas and favas are edible. Notice the little white nitrogen-fixing nodules growing on the roots of beans and peas. These crops add nitrogen and humus to the soil and none of the chemical residues found in manure.

Buy loads of wood chips from local urban lumber jacks. They will let you have them for free to avoid a long drive to some disposal site. Chips from deciduous trees break down faster. Mix some into your garden, especially if your soil is sandy. Pile lots of wood chips under fruit trees and grapes. Over the years the wood chips will gradually decompose. You can grow plants in woodchips by starting them in regular soil and then transplanting them, surrounded by a shovelfull of dirt, right into the woodchips. You can hasten the breakdown of woodchips by adding saltpeter, potassium nitrate. Buy it for $6 per pound at your local garden center or for $.50 per pound out in a rural area from a fertilizer supply business.

Make a compost pile. Put leaves, grass clippings, left over, uncooked greens from the kitchen, and everything you rip out of your garden into the pile. In the early summer when the neighbor’s yard waste bins are full of grass clippings, it is part of my morning jogging routine on trash pickup day to roll my neighbor’s bins over to my compost pile. I ask permission in advance. I look at their lawns; if they have perfectly manicured grass with no weeds, it means they use Weed & Feed, containing atrazine and other nasty and unnecessary herbicides. I take a pass on such non-organic clippings. It’s amazing what suckers most home owners are.

Water your compost piles in dry weather; it is populated with worms, bugs, and bacteria that get thirsty just like you do. It is best to locate your compost pile in a shady area so it will not dry out, unless you intend to water it frequently. Scatter some dirt on top of the pile to colonize the compost with bacteria. In summer you can make compost in a month—especially if you water it and turn it over regularly. Never put anything you could have eaten into an open compost pile, because if you could have eaten it, rats can too. To eliminate rats from your neighborhood, leave them nothing to eat.

Sometimes I skip the composting process and simply yanking out excess vegetation and lay it down in the rows between plants or around certain plants I am trying to feed. Plants that have dead vegetation around them grow bigger and faster.

Compost can be mixed into the soil when you are planting, or you can use it to “top feed,” meaning you can spread it around plants already growing.
Make a worm bin: Use it to compost the food you cannot put in the compost pile. Build or buy a heavy wooden box. As a temporary worm bin, use an old suitcase or trunk; punch a few holes in the sides and bottom for air and drainage. Or buy a Rubbermaid bin and punch it full of holes so it will breath and drain. Add dry leaves, newspaper (call your newspaper to make sure the ink is soy and not petroleum based), and kitchen scraps, and then colonize it with red composting worms. Garden stores have the right worm species. A worm bin must have a lock, a heavy lid, or a brick on it to keep varmints out.

Plants must have minerals to be healthy and produce vegetation that is healthy for you to eat, so add ground up rocks to your garden. Add rock phosphate or colloidal phosphate for phosphorus. Add green sand, which is a seabed mineral, for potassium, potash, and trace minerals. Add granite dust for potassium. Add kelp for potash and trace minerals. Add sunflower hull ash for potash. Oyster shell is a good source of calcium, but using it subsidizes oyster farming. Instead, add limestone flour and dolomite lime for calcium. Lime is alkaline and sweetens acid soils. Add gypsum to put calcium into soils that are not acid. Make sure your minerals are organic; scam artists have been selling industrial waste and incinerator ash as minerals.

If you live anywhere near the seashore, use seaweed as a fertilizer. We go down to Puget Sound following a winter storm when quantities of seaweed are swept ashore. We load the trunk and back seat with garbage bags full of seaweed. Look for dried seaweed swept up near the high tide line; it weighs a lot less. Seaweed is rich in minerals. I recommend that you spread out the seaweed on your lawn and either rinse it well with the hose or let it get rained on. Most of the salt in seaweed is on the surface. Some seaweed supporters say forget about the salt and just pile the seaweed on your garden. To harvest seaweed in Washington you must by a clam digging license.

Various plants reseed themselves and grow up spontaneously in my garden: borage, parsley, kale, collards, bok-choi, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, and cabbage. If you let some of them go to seed, you will have “volunteers” sprouting up in the spring. You can space-out or relocate volunteers into neat rows if that is what you like. All make seed pods that you can collect in paper bags for replanting when and where you want.

Parsley is a favorite. It’s a fair source of calcium and it will grow right through the winter in most parts of the United States. Wander through your garden and chomp away on parsley. You can make a great soup just out of parsley, onions, olive oil, and water.

Parsley will volunteer in odd places. It is invasive, but that’s not bad, because it is easy to jerk out when you want to plant something else in its place. Parsley will get tall and make seeds. Cut off the mature seed tops, dry them in a paper bag, and scatter them hither and yon around your yard and around the neighborhood.

The Romans saved parsley to the end of the meal and ate it last as a breath freshener, the classical version of tooth brushing. Gradually people stopped eating it, and it became merely a decorative garnish. Ask others at your dinner table, May I have your parsley? Let no sprig go uneaten.

Buy open-pollinated seeds, which are the product of one strain bred with itself. These seeds will produce seeds which will grow the same plant next year. Hybrids are generally a reproductive dead end, sold so you will have to buy new seeds every year. Become a “seed keeper.”

Support the smaller seed companies which specialize in open-pollinated seeds such as Abundant Life Seeds (www.AbundantLifeSeed.com); Territorial Seed Company (www.Territorial-Seed.com); and Bountiful Gardens (connected with Ecology Action, which was created by John Jeavons, www.BountifulGardens.org).

Mint is very aggressive, so take a shovel to it regularly, chopping most of it out, including the roots. If you don’t, it will just keep spreading. Tarragon spreads out in a perennial mat. Rosemary grows into a bonzai tree.

Squash and pumpkin flowers make tasty eating right up until the first heavy frost. The more flowers you pick, the more flowers the plants produce.
Borage dies in the winter, but it reseeds itself and comes back spontaneously in the Spring. The blue flowers attract beneficial insects. Borage is prolific and invasive, although not in a bad way because you can yank it out easily. I use the plants as compost. I might wrap one around some plant I am trying to give nitrogen to. I pile them under my grapes to keep down the weeds.

Borage flowers are good in soups and salads or eaten raw right off the plant. There is some debate about whether it is safe to eat borage leaves, but some sources say it is alright to eat them occasionally and in moderation. Nasturtium flowers and stems have an interesting, spicy taste.

Grow onions, leeks, garlic, and shallots. All live through the winter in the Northwest. Step on the onion stalk to bend it, or cut it down to a few inches tall; this promotes growth of the onion underground. It does no harm to onions to dig them up and spread them out if they are too crowded. Start onions with little onion starts. Leeks and onions make big seed pods; cut them off, and dry them in a paper bag for later planting. Grow garlic and shallots from garlic and shallot cloves. To make leeks grow thick at the base, dig a trench six to nine inches deep, and plant leeks in the bottom of the trench. As the leeks grow, gradually fill in the trench around the base of the leeks.

Plant peas early and often from early Spring to late Fall. When they stop producing seed pods, rip out the vines and compost them. Then plant another crop. They add humus to the soil and fix nitrogen. The small, tender, newly-emerging leaf clusters on the top are as good to eat as the pea ponds and peas.

I buy mustard seeds in bulk and broadcast them at random everywhere. They grow well in the rich mulch around my fruit trees. Kale grows well in the leaves piled under my grapes.

I have a front yard and a back yard garden. During the Winter, there is chaos, with kale, collards, mustard, leeks, onions, dill, and parsley growing wherever they have taken hold.

In Spring I practice what I call relocation gardening. There are hundreds of healthy volunteer plants growing in chaos on their own. Some are too crowded, and sometimes they are infested with weeds. So I start at one end of the garden and dig out healthy plants, including a big clod of dirt around the roots. After I have cleared some space, I relocate the healthy plants, giving them the right amount of room. I work from one end of the garden to the other this way until there is a plant every six to 12 inches. In the space left over I might plant new seeds in neat rows or plant a nitrogen-fixing crop.

I am most successful at growing grapes. After their first year most grapes need no watering except during severe drought. I have ten different varieties growing. Seedless grapes are fine, but I prefer buffalo, concord, and pinot gris. It is too much trouble to spit out the seeds; I just swallow them. They come out the other end. Grapes are great eaten fresh, and you can freeze them in bags for making smoothies. Even seeded grapes are good for freezing. The blender breaks up the seeds so they can be partially digested. People pay a lot of money for pycnogenol, which is made from grape seed.

I built a 20’ x 25’ arbor above my back deck. Bolt 4” x 4” posts to steel rods, available at Home Depot. Then sink the rods into concrete; with no earth-wood contact the posts will not rot at the base for decades. Use untreated cedar posts instead of treated posts that are heavy, brittle, and treated with copper and arsenic. Home Depot has ready made hardware that is perfect for attaching steel rods and cross members to the 4” x 4” posts.

I also grow grapes in rows. I tried using 4” x 4” cedar posts, but I discovered a better support system, the Unistrut post, made of galvanized steel, available at the local electronics supply house, and typically used to support banks of computer servers. (www.unistrut.com.) Buy the full size 1.5” x 1.5” 10 foot long strut. Rent a post hole driver, and drive the 10 foot long struts four feet into the ground. The struts have slots every six inches or so. Pass berry wire through these slots. Unistrut is not as pretty as a 4” x 4” cedar post, but it is cheap, stout, rust resistant, and will last a century.

I have had success growing kiwis, particularly the smaller, hardy variety, actinidia arguta. A kiwi plant will eventually produce hundreds of pounds of fruit. Kiwi plants are not self-fertile, so you need a non-producing males to fertilize the producing female. You must give a kiwi proper support for it to produce heavily. .

Instead of ornamental trees, I have planted apple, pear, peach, plum, fig, mulberry, and Asian pear. In Spring, when the tent caterpillars arrive, I pull them off and throw them into the garbage can. The big problem with growing apples organically is the apple maggot, which drills a hole into the core. I could use bT, which is a natural insecticide, however, we have so many apples that I just let the maggots have their share. I toss the wormy apples into the compost pile.

For those just getting started with gardening, I should say a few words about how to convert a lawn into a garden. I did it the wrong ways: In one area I used a rototiller. In another I cut out the sod in blocks, and stacked them up until the grass died in the hot summer.

A much easier method is to put down cardboard and newspaper, leaves, grass clippings, and some wood chips over your new garden area. The cardboard, newspaper, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips will shade out the grass underneath. If it is growing season, use a shovel or stake to punch holes through the cardboard. Dig some dirt up through the holes and plant your plants.

Certain plants need a lot of summer heat to prosper: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, and okra, for example. If you live in a relatively cool climate such as we have in the Northwest, grow such plants against the south facing wall of your house.

Tomatoes need to be staked up well. Plant each plant deep; the lower branches will turn into additional roots. Put a metal tomato cage around the plant when it is small, and drive plastic or bamboo stakes on either side of it. Run cord between the stakes on several levels, and later run cord around the growing plant. This supports the plant and keeps the cage from falling over when the plant is big. As the plant grows, trim off the limbs near the ground. You will have a five-foot tall tomato tree. Asians build a cage around a pair of tomato plants made of bamboo poles tied together with twine.


You already know what organic gardening is. Veganic gardening is organic gardening done without adding animal manure.
Even commercially grown organic vegetables are grown with manure, bone meal, and blood meal. Federal organic regulations did not change this. Manure contains nitrogen, and bone meal contains calcium, however, there are other sources of these minerals. A broader spectrum of trace minerals can be found in kelp and ground up rock. Manure, bone, and blood add unnecessary salt to your soil, and they contain petrochemicals and residual drugs.

Furthermore, animal fertilizers bear a heavy baggage of animal suffering; the animals that produced this poop, blood, and bones did not lead happy lives. There are reports that gardeners can contract spongiform brain disease by inhaling bone meal, and that they should wear a mask when they apply it. (See the section of this book entitled Spongiform Brain Disease, p. 280.)
Plants need added nitrogen. Instead of adding manure, add compost around the base of plants after they have come up. If you have no compost ready, grow green manure and turn it under. If your green manure is not ready, add leaves or, grass clippings. Nitrogen is lost very quickly, so you don’t need to spread your compost or leaves or grass clippings or hay everywhere. You are just wasting it. Add it around the base of your plants after they come up. Such sources will provide all the nitrogen your plants will need, and they will be organic and veganic.

How much green manure should you add? It depends on how poor your soil is. My garden was mostly sand when I started. I devoted over half my garden for several years to growing green manure. I still have extremely poor soil. I will be growing green manure and adding wood chips for a long time.

“Well,” some say, “I use animal fertilizer because it will just go to waste otherwise.” No, if you stop buying it, then the production of animal products generally becomes just a little less profitable. I say boycott the entire animal-based food and materials stream.

My great regret regarding gardening in Washington is that the drinking water is fluoridated. That means I must water my greens and vegetables with fluoridated water. The short term solution is to buy a rain barrel. Long term we must get the fluoride out of our water. (See http://FluorideClassAction.WordPress.com.)