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Verde Valley Good Eats
By Lu Parker, Cottonwood, AZ
Cover the how-to's to backyard poultry, gardening, putting the food by and where to find good eats that are all natural, Verde Valley grown. Tips on preparing all natural food, particularly meats that have not been injected with water or dripping in fat. Pickling, canning, a few recipes here and there and a general discussion on growing and eating it here.
Friday, January 6, 2012

The All Natural Garden

 Lu Parker, Hens Nest Farm

January 6, 2012 The Natural Garden

When we start talking about natural gardens we often get stuck on the word natural from the get go. Aren't all plants natural? To a degree yes all plants are natural. There is a proliferation of genetically engineered seeds out there, so to the purists, only heirloom, open pollinated seeds qualify as all natural.

My definition of all natural means no chemical biocides or fertilizers and I try to stick with heirloom varieties. Years of experience and experiments gone awry have taught me some key steps to an all natural garden. First, don't expect every plant to produce perfectly. There is an old saying, "one for the farmer, one for weevil and one for the crow". I'd say two for me and one for Mother Nature regardless of what eats it. That may sound like a huge waste, but in actuality it is not.

Commercial growers suggest thinning, depending upon the plant every other one after germination, so we are still losing some from that seed packet.

Several key points for an all natural garden that you need to follow!

Companion plantings. Monoculture simply creates a feast for the pests. There is a lot of info out there on compatible and incompatible plants. I suggest checking out www.attra.ncat.org and look in the library for companion planting. It is a free downloadable publication with an excellent chart of who likes each other and who doesn't. The Cooperative Extension through the Master Gardener program is also a wealth of free information. Give them a call at 928-554-8991 in Camp Verde. A couple of examples worth noting are corn, beans and squash just as the Native Americans did it. Radishes interspersed among squash and cucumbers help eliminate the squash beetle. Tansy repels ants.

On the other hand, onions and tomatoes do NOT like each other. Dill, parsley and carrots attract beneficial insects, but dill needs to be used sparingly lest you have an acre of dill and nothing else. Onions, garlic and chives repel some insects but attract others, particularly onion maggots and root borers. Interspersing plants that are compatible assists in beneficial pest control. Used coffee grounds along side of your rows will also repel ants and some nematodes.

Sunflowers and cucumbers are allelopathic plants. They exude chemical warnings to other plants which may retard their growth, but also help in weed control. This is why many gardeners plants cukes on the outside edge of the garden to prevent the lawn or pasture from intruding.

Beans and onions do well together, even interspersed in the same bed. Peas and turnips also do well as do peas and radishes. On the other hand beans and onions together are a no-no. Corn and tomatoes, beets and beans and beets and tomatoes are also a No-No.

Don't forget the contributions of marigolds and nasturtiums. They are not only pretty bloomers; they also repel aphids, nematodes and even gophers, particularly marigolds. On that topic, gophers can be a huge nuisance here, particularly in friable, sandy soils. I have found the best cure next to individually trapping is castor oil pellets. While is expensive, it does drive them out of your garden. It does not kill them though. Castor oil based Gopher repels is not dangerous to plants, birds or animals. It is available at Verde Valley Hardware (Ace) and Home Depot.

Fertilizer is a hot topic. Obviously for an all natural garden you want aged (at least 6 month old) chicken manure, cow manure or horse manure. Bags of aged manure may be purchased at the home garden stores. Get to be friends with a neighbor who has animals! Age the manure in the fall and work it in early in the spring. Mulching with old leaves is also an excellent way to increase soil fertility. Planting legumes such as peas and beans will also raise the nitrogen level in the root zone. Interspersing legumes with compatible crops is easy and very useful.

Mulch and good old fashioned hand weeding will reduce weed competition. An all natural garden will always have a few weeds. The trick is to keep them in check. I use old paper feed sacks as row protectors. They keep the weeds down, hold water and keep my tromping in the garden from excessively compacting the soil.

Planted yellow onion sets and shallots this morning. These are frost hardy and will do just fine this early in my south facing Bridgeport garden. I'm also saving paper towel and toilet paper rings just in case the borers get busy later. Simply push a ring over the onion into about an inch of the soil. Works and it is bio-degradable.

There are 8 duck eggs in the incubator right now. I will candle them tonight for viability. Hopefully, there will be ducklings come the end of February. Ducks are excellent meat producers as well as pets. They eat everything in sight if you let them roam your lawns. These are runners and are excellent layers. I'm getting duck eggs every day. Yummy in baking!

Turkeys should start laying soon. I will set as many turkey eggs as I can. Baby poults should start arriving in April. I love spring and the opportunity to produce Good Eats for the year! Best wishes as you plan and plant your Good Eats.

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