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Small Gardener, Big Conference!

I attended the first day of the Bionutrient Food Association’s Soil and Nutrition Conference on Wednesday, November 29, and what an AMAZING conference it was! Speakers such as David Montgomery and Kathleen DiChiara gave eye opening talks regarding everything from soil restoration to principles of conservative agriculture to the bacteria in certain vegetables and fruits that can prevent chronic diseases (bet you won’t skip your dinner salad tonight!!). One talk I found particularly helpful was given by M.L. Altobelli, a garden landscaper who specializes in taking broad-scale farm techniques and applying them to urban and suburban gardens. Here are the main takaways from her lecture:

  • The lawn is your diagnositc tool so soil testing is very important! Do the shovel test to see how compacted your property is: begin in an area of the yard close to your house. Take a spade shovel and, using your foot to push it, stick it as far into the ground as it will go. Note how far the shovel penetrates the ground, then move a few feet away and do the test again. Repeat until soil is tested to the perimeter of your property.

  • Unless your shovel easily penetrates the soil, it is better to build UP (raised beds) rather than build down.

  • It is best to build raised beds oriented North-South because they will have the most even temperatures. Beds oriented East-West have hot and cold sides.

  • Good soil depth for vegetables or high productivity plants is 8-12”.

  • Straight lines are a farming concept. They are not necessary and can even be counterproductive in a garden landscape, so it is possible to have soft edges on your raised beds (can create curves out of straight lines).

  • Flowers attact pollinators and beneficials, so mix flowers in with your veggies in your raised beds (these beneficials are crucial to keeping your garden going through the fall).

  • You must encorporate your garden into your daily living space! You need to see your garden every day to be able to respond to the subtle changes.

  • To prevent harvesting too late or missing harvests, it is helpful to pick a specific day of the week to do all harvesting, as not to forget.

  • The critical time to water is just before sun-up (dew time). This is when the plants will absorb the most water (set a sprinkler on a timer for 4am or 5am).

A big thanks to the Bionutrient Food Association for allowing a forum where farmers, gardeners, nutritionists, researchers and foodies alike can come together to learn and share!

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