Created: May 2013
Updated: August 17, 2015
My gardening background is different than most. One set of grandparents had a ranch and the other a farm. Both grew most of their own vegetables and both were early big time organic farmers. My parents let me spend many of my summers with my grandparents so I got lots of experience helping with their gardens. They had large compost piles into which they mixed last year's tree leaves, their grass clippings, table scraps, manure, and chicken droppings. Both made their gardening soil very rich turning in that compost every year to which they also added worms that they raised themselves. Both grew enough fruits and vegetables that they took care of their own needs and had enough extra to sell to cover all their food costs. All that production came from lots and lots of work saying nothing of the overhead of keeping up their farm animals. My mother and I continued the tradition and always kept lots of fruit trees and a large garden. She canned every year and often traded with some of her friends.
In high school we joined a food coop in Davis associated with the University of California at Davis and grew most of our own vegetables, often with the help of some of the top agronomists in the world. Strangely, their recommendations only slightly differed from what we learned from my grandparents. We did the same composting with manure and grew our own worms. They had us add fish emulsion to replace the trace elements that farming tends to remove from the soil. Fish emulsion is strange stuff as what the big packers do is take all the fish leftovers including bones, then cause all to break down in a big vat using special enzymes. The result is a thick liquid fertilizer that we could distribute through the drip irrigation they convinced us to install for constant plant feeding. That drip system was a pain to install and maintain, but used far less water and fertilizer plus minimized weeds. The results were stunning with huge corn stalks and massive production from almost every plant.
From college on I have had gardens. For most I did the same composting and adding the fish emulsion for the trace elements. In college I began tilling in each year a large amount of horse manure and rice hulls from a friend's horse stables. Tilling in the rice hulls really opened up our hardpan soil and made a huge difference. The first year I only put the horse manure and rice hulls into half the garden. Identical plants grown at the same time were more than twice as big and productive on the half with the rice hulls and horse manure. After college each of my different homes had gardens except for a short while I was in a condo. Even that was setup with tomatoes and fresh herbs grown on my patio.