Spring Gardening Series: Ideas for a Chemical-Free Garden

Friends, we are pleased to announce that Four String Farm will host a series of gardening discussions, “Ideas for a Chemical-Free Garden”, at Coastal Bend Health Foods this spring.  Join us on the first and third Saturdays in March and April from 11:00am to noon, for a fun and interesting exploration of chemical-free gardening.

The first session is this Saturday, March 3rd, from 11:00am to noon.  There is no charge and all current and future gardeners are welcome.  Bring your passion for healthy and delicious food and a desire to grow a beautiful, chemical-free garden.

Saturday, March 3rdPreparing the Soil and Getting Ready to Plant

Saturday, March 17thGrowing Tomatoes in Rockport.  How to Grow Tres Hermanas.

April:  Easy and Powerful Homemade Fertilizer.  Watering the Garden.  Chemical-Free Pest Control.  Beneficial and Bad Predators.  Maximizing Native Resources.  Potent Compost.  Efficient Harvesting.  Preparing for Fall Companion Planting.

Experience not Required

If you do not know the first thing about growing vegetables, do not be worried; I have been where you are.  I was not raised in a farming family and probably never saw a vegetable planted during my entire childhood.  I didn’t even have a cactus in my dorm window in college!

However, I am profoundly grateful that I had no early influences on my farming.  I was never schooled in a particular method and consequently locked into a flawed model through habit or fear of change.

On the contrary, I have been privileged to study farming methods in many diverse places, particularly in developing countries, where the failure of a garden means starvation for the families that depend upon it for survival.  The stakes are very high for these farmers and they can’t afford to miss.

In the upper Himalayas, the growing season is only five months of the year.  The tiny terraced gardens carved into the cold mountain must produce all the food for the community for the whole year.  And they are vegetarians!  A single failed harvest brings devastating consequences.  Those folks do not use chemicals in their gardens.  In the tiny islands of Japan, every tillable square inch of land is under cultivation, right up to the roads, sidewalks, sides of buildings, even the tops of buildings.  Japanese farmers, for the most part, use traditional methods and shun chemicals.  I visited a farm in California where the “beneficial predator garden” was nearly as big as the vegetable garden.  They raised enough good bugs to eat the bad bugs so they never needed to spray chemicals!  On little farms across America, innovative farmers are developing highly successful programs free of chemicals.  I have been blessed to learn from many good teachers.

Sometimes the best innovation is simply re-discovering old methods.  I found the Tres Hernamas companion planting method in a history book about early American pioneers.  However, I could not find anything about this method in gardening books, on the internet, or from local experts, despite the fact that Tres Hermanas was the dominant method of growing food in America for over 1,000 years.  Native American Indians and pioneer settlers survived on these gardens without any chemicals whatsoever.

Today, corn, beans, and squash are a significant portion of our farm income and the Tres Hermanas method is an indispensable part of our overall program.  We are professional farmers; we make our living with our gardens and animals.  Like the Indians who developed Tres Hermanas, we cannot afford to miss.  Our methods must work.

The Pastured Method of Agriculture

On our farm, we employ the “pastured method” for growing food.  Our animals and gardens work together to create incredibly healthy and flavorful food.  We employ our native resources and a little ingenuity and a very few store-bought items.  We never use chemicals on our gardens.  We do use a chemical for one specific case on our farm (the dreaded cut ant) and never apply it close to animals or plants, and we will talk about this.

To my knowledge, my friend Greg Edelen of Edelen Farms, 100 miles away, is the only other farmer in South Texas who uses a pastured method of agriculture.  I would love to see more farmers adopt this method!  Pastured farming requires less money, less labor, and less time than chemical agriculture.  It is easier on the animals and actually improves the environment.  The gardens are more vital, more nutrient rich, and more prolific.  The health properties of pastured food far surpass chemical-soaked produce.  And the taste of pastured food is beyond comparison.

My challenge has been to translate the elements of a pastured program into methods that home gardeners, who are not able to keep animals, can implement.  We will explore those concepts at our discussions and will learn from your ideas as well.

Don’t Bash the Chemical Guys!

There are many gardening classes and lectures in our area open to the public.  However, most of those programs are based on the chemical model of growing food.  Some of the classes seem more like chemistry than gardening.

If you use chemicals, you will not get a hard time in our discussions.  Many of our farm customers are local master gardeners who use chemicals, and some have been out to our farm to observe our methods in detail.  The owner of a large chemical fertilizer company sits down the pew from me in church, and is the nicest guy you will ever meet.  It is not in my nature to make anyone feel uncomfortable.  Our goal is simply to create a forum to share ideas about growing vegetables without chemicals.

I believe the chemical model of growing food does not work.  Chemicals usually kill gardens gradually, and sometimes all at once.  And besides, who wants to eat vegetables that come out of a chemical garden, if you can grow them in a natural way?  When home gardeners use chemicals, they benefit the chemical companies more than their gardens.

“If I Knew a Better Way, I Would Do It!”

A home gardener recently told me that every time she fills her cart with Round-Up and Miracle-Gro and other chemicals, she can’t help feeling a little uneasy.  She assumes the products are safe, or they wouldn’t sell them at the store, right?  But she wants to raise her own food, and if she knew a better method, she would use it.

Friends, our “Spring Gardening Series:  Ideas for a Chemical Free Garden” will show that there are chemical-free methods to grow food that work better, are safer, healthier, and taste better!  Stop by Coastal Bend Health Foods on the first and third Saturdays during March, April, and May, from 11:00am to noon, to find out more.

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