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Spring greens with homemade hummus

The food we are growing in the world today is not as nutrient dense as it was  30 years ago and according to some researchers, it is declining at a rapid rate. This is due to our growing conditions. We are trying to grow more food per acreage to feed more people. Our soils are becoming depleted of vitamins and minerals. Farmers are growing only those vegetables that can provide more yield but may not be the most nutrient dense choice. This means our food quality is declining and we, the consumers will pay the price with our health.

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I have been growing some of our food on our city lot for the past 20 yrs, and each year I add a new food that I find grows well in my growing zone. I have found if you plan on growing food for daily eating and winter storage; it may mean giving up some other things in your life, for example, I spend more of my free time in the garden than I did in the past. Some people try and sell books claiming you can grow food with only 10 minutes out of your day devoted to producing excellent quality food. Yeah, right! I promise you it takes time, thought and proper planning to utilize a small space which is what most of us have on a city lot. I also plant different crops for different seasons so I can use my limited space more than once a year to double my food growing. The ground in our Urban Potager is always working to provide nutritious food.

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Spring pansy salad

English researcher Anne- Mayer, Ph.D. was one of the first researchers to report a decline of mineral concentrations in 20 United Kingdom based crops from the 1930’s to 1980’s. This is not just occurring in the United Kingdom but all over the world. Our food is not as nutritious as it once was and it should be a concern for all people, for we depend on our food system to keep us healthy. How can we battle disease if we don’t have high-quality food?

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Spring greens of red frills mustard growing in my salad bed

In the USA, Dr. Donald Davis led a team of researchers that analyzed 43 fruits and vegetables from 1950 to 1999 and discovered a  significant reduction in mineral, vitamins, and protein. They found that nutrient value declined in recent decades when farmers started planting crops to improve certain characteristics. Some of these traits were to breed those plants that provided better yield, bigger vegetables, better resistance to pests, adapted to different climates, and quick to mature. When growing these vegetables with these particular traits and increased use of synthetic fertilizers these foods have fewer phytonutrients! We don’t have the nutrient dense food daily to help us battle disease.

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Saving seed from your favorites is one way to save money

Spring is around the corner here in Midwest USA, and we all need to start thinking about what we want to grow. This year, I have made the decision to only grow food that I can’t purchase locally organically. I have a small city lot which means I don’t have a lot of space. Each year I trial a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers in our Urban Potager to see which work best in our climate. Once I establish what perform best in our area, I try to save seed from those plants. When you save seed, you have plants that acclimate to your growing zone.  In 2017, I will be exploring, again which crops are best grown on my city lot and which ones  I should let the farmers grow locally for me.

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Spring Lettuce mixed in flower beds is a great edible landscape!

I have found that growing multiple crops throughout the growing season provides more food. I practice succession planting and replenish the soil after each crop finishes in a garden bed.Right now, I have under lights all my cool season spring greens for April salads. In our growing zone, the summer heat sends most of my cool season veggies to seed late spring or early summer.

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If you want to grow a lot of food on a city lot, you have to select the varieties for your climate.  This means you have to research a bit to find those crops that grow best in your succession planting schedule. At this time of the year, I have my annual, cold tolerant veggies or those that handle a light frost germinating and growing under lights in a room I designate our “growing room.”   Once I start placing these cool season vegetables, flowers and herbs outside, I will start germinating under lights the hot summer crops the week of St. Patrick’s day.  My goal is to never have an empty space in our edible garden. The key is to replenish your soil after each crop is done performing in the growing beds. A good top dressing of compost into the bed and any other amendments to enrich the soil is best to add before you start the next crop. My goal is to always have another plant ready to take the place of the one just harvested.This means you can grow more on a small lot!

 

 

 

 

Written by Robbie

M.S. Education, , Organic Gardener, soil + nature lover, former modern dancer

58 comments

  1. Robbie, I have heard/read about this but believe compost helps to reintroduce minerals and nutrients back into the soil. A good reminder that soil is alive and needs to be fed. I also order a product from Gardener’s Supply called Green Sand that contains minerals to reintroduce them back into the soil. This year, for the first time, I plan to use an organic fertilizer on my tomatoes because they just haven’t grown as well as in years past even though I constantly top off my beds with compost. I also water with fish emulsion even though that is not very vegan of me, which puts micronutrients and minerals back into the soil. I can’t wait to get growing again in the Northern climate. I have been enjoying fresh greens here all winter but I have to start over with a garden here and although that’s exciting, I’m looking forward to my well established garden in Clayton! I can’t wait to see what you grow this year! I won’t start seeds indoors until mid-late April when I return but that’s okay because it doesn’t warm up very quickly there LOL.

    1. Good Morning Kathy from Illinois it will be in the 50’s today! I agree you have to decide what is needed to the specific crop, for example, some veggies are heavy feeders and really take a lot from the soil. I have been using Azomite + Rock Dust the past few years. It is amazing in my garden. I am even adding it ( small bit) to my seed starting mixes. I have seen such a difference in my soil and the food tastes sweeter, crazy, I know. I compost directly over the winter into my beds and I have even found trench composting( what my dad did for years) helps too. I use fish emulsion as my primary fertilizer on my seedlings but if you are vegan I can see why you might have issues. I grew up near Lake Michgan and fish was part of our life. I don’t eat a lot of other meat items, but I do eat fish.
      I can’t wait to see your garden too!!!!!

      1. I will have to check out the Azomite — thank you! I am trench composting here in FL because someone told me if I make a pile (or drumlin as I tend to do), all the roots from all around will gravitate to the pile. So, trench composting it is! I may start to do that up North too, until my drumlin wears down. I pile the beds high with compost and leaves every fall before I leave. I eat some seafood here and sometimes eggs but mostly because there isn’t another choice. I was for a time really craving fish and eggs and indulged because I am a firm believer in eating what your body craves. I am quite forgiving, we all do the best we can most of the time!

      2. There are some people that say Azomite/Rock dust does not do anything etc. I decided to trial it in my garden about 3 yrs ago to see how it helped or did’not.’ I found my fruit + veggies had such an enhanced flavor( sweeter-crazy, I know) that was very noticeable. When they built these homes 50 yrs ago, they took all the top soil away. I’ve been building it for about 20 yrs, but when I started it was hard as a rock! I also am growing comfrey(drop in place) on my property to use as green manure. I don’t use animal manure.
        I try very hard to only purchase from farmers that raise their animals humanely. I was vegan for about a year. I do have cheese, eggs, fish and a little chicken now. You are so right, you have to listen to your body and do the best you can do:-)

      3. LOL- you are too funny..do get the OMRI one and let me know if you notice things have an enhanced flavor or sweet taste:-) I have been sprinkling it on my small seedlings, not a lot and I don’ t even know if it will make a difference. I’m just exploring:-)

    2. Oh, I do eat chicken that is raised up in wisconsin humanely ( free range, grass fed on small farms) and fed coco instead of soy. I don’t eat much meat, but found with my long bike rides on the river, I needed more protein. My body just works that way. I tried vegan but did not work for me. However, I do eat mostly a plant based diet:-) The meat is tiny amounts and not that often:-)

  2. I just top dressed our beds with mulch from our chicken coop. It has straw and aged chook manure and the odd feather for luck. I make compost now for the garden and collect the clippings from the “lawn” (about 2 acres of it 😉 ) in the park over the Batman Bridge and we have a lot of worms in our soil now. I bought some organic soil ameliorates a few years ago that I add in small quantities from a guy who teaches people how to grow organically. I think if your soil is healthy, the veggies you grow on it are also healthy. You just need to make sure that your soil is not being depleted of nutrients. I love that you have no space left in your garden Robbie. I still haven’t got my head around succession planting but I am trying to make sure that I don’t have any space left in the wicking beds at any given time. It’s just about time to harvest the beets so I will be making sure to replace them with something that will replenish the soil (peas?) Still a baby in veggie gardening terms and still enjoying the heck out of this ability to experiment in the garden.

    1. If I were to use one animal manure( I use mostly green manure), it would be chicken!It is amazing what it does for your garden:-)I also am still new:-) to this for each growing season (or succession) I learn something new. It is a never-ending learning process. Nature teaches me so much. We grind up all the debris from the yard in fall and early spring. I add that to the soil and as you, spread grass clippings, too:-) With your acreage you would be able to feed a village! I agree healthy soil equals healthy people:-) I would grow peas. I recommend De Grace pea it is a shorter one and tolerates very cool temps.It is an amazing old variety snow pea.

      I am still learning about succession planting. I trialed some radicchio, leeks to winter them over for spring. The Blue Solaice Leeks wintered over and so did the radicchio! Spring veggies that tolerate our winter and provide food early spring. I need to get my timing right to make it happen more productively!

      1. There would be a lot of money to be made from writing books about succession planting and giving people charts for different veggies that you could add to the mix after harvesting specific veggies in order to rotate your garden beds etc. I know that this info is available if you scour the net but if it was all in a nice book it would sell millions! I would buy one. Thank you for the suggestions about the peas. I will see if we can buy that variety here. It’s very different from country to country and I SO envy you guys your seed companies. Here in Tasmania we find it hard to get seeds as many of them are not able to pass into our state due to quarantine risks and the ones that are able need to be accompanied by paperwork so most seed companies simply refuse to sell to Tasmanian’s as they don’t want all of the hassle so we miss out.

      2. I totally agree! There is Jeavons my favorite! Check this out from Mother Earth News-

        http://www.growbiointensive.org/PDF/BG2014Catalog.pdf

        I don’t know what I would do if I did not learn about “bio-intensive” French type gardening techniques. I would not get much food out of my small lot. I learning every year + trying to add more perennial vegetables to my lot to help extend when I am filling garden beds. Many unbelievable foods out there that so many of us do not know about. You are right we are spoiled in the USA with our seed companies. I am trying to save my own seed so it is acclimated to my area and I have found with my heirloom cucumbers they are never bothered by cucumber beetles. I counted 3 last year-wow, what an improvement:-)

      3. I think we have to learn to adapt and grow as gardeners. No point in sulking because something ate our plants, we need to be proactive and learn how to grow plants that will be resistant naturally by picking the plants that do the best and saving their seed. I agree about more perennials. Most people don’t know that you can eat the bulbs of day lilies and dahlias and they both grow like topsy just about anywhere. It’s all about educating yourself and doing a bit of online hunting to find out what might grow well in your conditions. That catalogue is magnificent Robbie. I know we have a growing down south in Tasmania in a place called “Snug” who sells seeds for all sorts of things. I might have to ask him for a catalogue as he only sells online and you need to ask him for his catalogue every year. I am saving seed from spinach and beetroot at the moment as I want to learn how to do it. My garlic chives have started flowering and I will collect seed from them this year as they are easy to get now that they are in fridge wicking beds. I need to research “bio-intensive” gardening as I have no idea what that is. I am guessing packing the most into a small area whilst maintaining the soil to optimum conditions? It will give me something to research today :). Have a great day Robbie and thank you SO much for sharing what you are learning with us all. We truly appreciate it 🙂

      4. Oh, Fran, you are one smart gal!!!! . “I am guessing packing the most into a small area while maintaining the soil to optimum conditions?”
        Amen sister-you are right:-) It is also sometimes called French intensive…it seems to overlap and found a neat info below that the eastern cultures practiced too-

        http://www.alan-chadwick.org/html%20pages/techniques/garden_plants/veg_photos.html

        http://www.vegetable-gardening-with-lorraine.com/French-intensive-garden.html

        I tend to implement elements from a variety of techniques, and I feel you will too:-) I can’t wait to see what you find interesting and want to apply in your growing area. I am an eclectic gardener:-)
        You teach me so much too-isn’t it great we have a kinship through our gardens!!!

  3. I have to admit Robbie to being constantly amazed that people still think they can grow their food in earth they have returned no nutrients to. I guess it shows just how far from nature we have ‘progressed’. I read a book that came out of Russia several years ago that spoke of the way of the old gardeners. They rose from their beds and went to their gardens. They lightly tilled the soil and touched the plants with their hands – this ‘first touch’ containing the magic of transferring to the plants the knowledge of the nutrients required by the human. The food grown then became the perfect medicine for that gardener. It is an intriguing thought! The people who lived in this manner were said to have lived in good health to a ripe old age. Now it seems most of the world buys food from anywhere with no thought to who grew it or how it was grown, or in what conditions. And the pharmaceutical companies grow stronger and richer by the minute while the population grows weaker and sicker. It’s a choice we all make I guess.

    1. Pauline that is a beautiful story! I do believe that we are meant to work the earth with our hands.We are connected to each other. I believe God gave us every plant we need on this earth to heal. It is interesting how many of the pharmaceuticals we take for a disease are ones that were made from common plants.One of my chemo drugs back in 2003 was-“Vincristine which is classified as a plant alkaloid—The vinca alkaloids are manufactured from the periwinkle plant (catharanthus rosea)” There are many others that we have made from plants. You can trace many of our today drugs we take for granted were found in the garden of an old monk’s apothecary garden in the Middle Ages!

  4. Excellent post and important message. Some heirloom / heritage varieties have been found to be more nutritious another good reason for growing them.

  5. Hello Robbie,
    I just saw your comment and had to pop over to say hello & thank you! I just read your two most recent posts and must say, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been away for far too long, but at the same time, I’ve needed to step away from the computer and had to get outside more … going for walks, getting dirt under my nails in the garden and traveling. My eyes have been bothering me more and more, and sadly, time spent in front of the computer just makes it worse. I do miss reading your blog as it reminds me that I’m not alone and always raises my spirits. Thanks again for always being a bright spot. I’ll be back to read and visit from time to time. Take care my dear.

    1. Good to hear from you and see you are outside in the dirt:-) I know what you mean about computer eyes. I have to make sure I don’ t spend too much time at my computer some days. It ‘s nice to see you are traveling and enjoying life:-) I miss your posts + beautiful photos!:-)

      1. I’ve started posting iPhone pics to an Instagram account (curiously_different) as it’s become too difficult & painful for me to use my SLR camera. I’m miss blogging tho and hope to resume. Sending warmest hugs your way and many thanks for your kindness.

      2. I am so sorry you are going through this difficult time:-( Best wishes for better times + I sure do hope you can blog again for yours was up there with my favorites to read:-)

    1. flying-it was in the 70’s the other week! This is nuts and makes one wonder what is in the future…sure hope it does not mean global warming is moving more rapidly!
      I am eager to get out there and have spring salads:-) YUM!

    1. I know what you mean by work-I was sore from grinding all my leaves + debris from our lot. We have a pin oak that drops them later in the season. We grind up all our leaves from our property and use them as mulch. It saves money and boy do the worms love the ground up leaves and debris:-) BUT, boy am I sore from raking + grinding-lol-it does keep me in shape!

  6. Hi Robbie… a very good evening from Japan… enjoyed reading your post and could not help grinning reading the part on some books telling people that gardening is not time consuming… hahaha… the writer is probably not really a gardener… anyway, I am happy to see that you are starting your plants already… I am still very much in ‘slumber’ mode…

    1. Hi, Lrong:-)A warm greeting to you and yours from USA! I had some seeds left over from Egyptian spinach (Molokheiya from your garden!)you sent me a few years ago. I grew some last year but did not save seed due to being busy last fall. I will be saving seed this year from my plants. I am excited to try your soup that I read about on your blog a few years ago. As always, your beautiful photos made me HAVE to grow and make that soup:-) The best part of seed saving is sharing:-)

      1. I know what you mean:-) I can’t find much of what I grow locally and it amazes me that more of us don’t try to do more:-)

  7. I knew that. The soil is depleted and the chemicals that are poured on the soil are poisonous. Farming practices are so poor that I’m surprised there are any nutrients at all. If it would ever stop raining, I could get out there and get things going. This has been the oddest year for weather. They get odder each year. Keep on growing the good stuff.

    1. I totally agree the weather is odd this year:-) I was out there riding my bike on the river last week in 70 degree weather…in FEB…that is nuts! This week we have temps ranging from the teens to possibly mid 60’s sunday. It is a roller coaster this weather and I can’t seem to figure out what to start when or where in the garden- the plants are confused too:-)It is getting odder each year:-)

  8. Hi Robbie, we have an organisation over here – The Soil Association , who champions organic food and promotes the importance of soil health. Intensive Agriculture and chemicals have taken a terrible toll on one of our most important resources.
    I though if you have time, you might be interested in the link.
    https://www.soilassociation.org

  9. The photos of your gardens are always so beautiful, Robbie. And I love your sense of humor. I had to laugh at your comment: “Some people try and sell books claiming you can grow food with only 10 minutes out of your day devoted to producing excellent quality food. Yeah, right!”

    I so agree. I can’t imagine how much time it has taken you to prepare your gardens, start seeds, and research what grows well in your yard. It’s taken me years to begin learning and building gardens. Luckily, it’s something I love to do, even though it means I live with dirt-stained hands for three seasons of the year. Even trying to wash my hands takes more that 10 minutes a day. 🙂

    1. Hi, Carol!!!!
      It sure is not 10 minutes a day:-)LOL I quit looking at those books years ago when I actually started my own garden and working each season to grow more food.I do enjoy it, so the work does not seem like work when you are doing something you enjoy. I love being outside each day and growing food makes sure you get out there every day. Spring is around the corner, and I am so excited to be sitting in the garden. Yesterday, I sat out there for an hour after I worked. It was in the sixties! I stopped by your blog the other day and as always love your stories, photos, and poems:-)

  10. Hi Robbie! Fantastic post as usual! Thanks for bringing up the subject of nutrients in our food….funny that it’s the last thing most people give a thought about but it’s the most important elements we need. We humans are a funny lot. Modern farming has certainly not been beneficial in the long run. I too am growing comfrey…I read where to make a comfrey tea, same idea as compost tea, keep the finished tea in a bucket and then when using it on plants, dilute the tea 50 to 1 with water…..with water being the 50. It must be packed with nutrients! So glad to be reading your post. Love, love your photos…..beautiful!

    1. HI, Annie!!!! It is so good to have you visit over the cyber garden fence:-) Miss your beautiful posts and hearing all about your hillside garden. I am more determined to grow many of our veggies due to the lack of nutrients found in the ones we get from our local grocery. I try to buy from the local farmers that grow in more rural areas, for example, butternut squash. I’ve grown it in our urban potager, but it just takes up too much room. It is an adventure ever day:-)

  11. That is so true…the contamination levels in the veggies and fruits that we eat today is not just high but also indiscernible. I wish I could grow it all but in India it’s tough as there is hardly any space for home gardens

  12. It sure is! Sure keeps us on our toes! We’ve got a few farmers markets here in town that are pretty good…I grow a few veggies, but this hillside isn’t very conductive for crops. I’m trying to rethink the whole scope of the garden nowadays……some native edibles, perennial veggies that aren’t so picky, herbs tucked in, greens scattered about, a few raised beds for the tomatoes and maybe some alpine strawberries in planters. A here and there concept! What the heck, I’ve tried so many different gardening techniques through the years, this is just one more adventure…..just like you said!

    1. we are on the same page annie!!! I have a bed of alpine strawberries and I enjoy them more than my other ones. I make a tea from the leaves:-) I am exploring more perennial veggies too. It makes sense:-) I look forward to hearing all about your adentures and what you are growing:-)

  13. When my home was built about 20 years ago all the topsoil was removed. I bought the house when it was 6 years old and I have been building back the soil ever since. It’s a never-ending task really. And as far as I can tell the soil is always hungry; must take after me. 😀

    1. I do understand taking the top soil off of the new homes lot. They did that to our area. I have been working on my soil since 2000 and it is a never-ending task. I remember that first year it was rock hard I was unable to even put a shovel in the ground. I have broken shovel handles in that soil. It is slowly turning over but you are right it is always hungry. I am like you too, always hungry that is why I turned my lawn into food-LOL

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