2014: International Year of Family Farming (& Gardening)

Veggie Landscape Garden

Veggie Landscape Garden

by Catherine Haug, April 2014 (Photo, right, from Mercola: Who Knew Vegetable Gardens Could Be So Revolutionary?)

Did you know the UN has designated this year, 2014, and the International Year of Family Farming, to bring attention and recognition to the family farmers that are helping to nourish the world? This includes all of us who have gardens in our front or back yards.

Read on for:

  • You can garden ‘even if’;
  • Food for your garden

You can garden ‘even if’:

  • You have a very small yard, or no yard at all: plant veggies in pots on your deck or balcony.
  • Your development’s covenants do not permit ‘vegetable gardens,’ by making your garden part of your decorative landscape. Plant leafy-green veggies amongst flowers in an attractive display, as in the photo, above. Plant fruiting trees in an Espalier (living fence).
  • You have absolutely no place to plant anything: join a community garden!

Or, if gardening is not for you, shop at our many farmers markets around the valley. Also, many of our grocers are expanding their produce sections and incorporating ‘organic’ foods.

Food for your garden

TV commercials would lead us to believe the only way to feed your garden is with chemical fertilizers. But the most healthful food for your garden comes from composted manure and/or a kitchen compost pile with ‘green manure’ composted animal manure added. See Compost for a listing of articles on composting on this website, including the following:


There is much debate about which manure is best for your garden. Many people swear by chicken manure, and this is certainly one of the best IF it comes from your own chickens or from a local chicken farm whose practices you trust. But most commercial chicken manure comes from chicken factories, a type of CAFO where the poor birds are kept in extremely close confinement and must eat and sleep in their own manure. Such manure is full of parasites and chemical contaminants and is likely nutrient deficient.

Cow manure is readily available as well, but is often full of weed seeds that will sprout and spread in your garden and yard. And just as for chicken manure, it comes from cattle raised in CAFOs and is thus highly contaminated with ag chemicals and toxic heavy metals. So if you use cow manure, be sure of your source, preferably local.

Goat manure is another great fertilizer and becoming increasingly more available from local family farms who raise goats for milk. But just as for other manures, be sure of your source.

I use composted horse manure that I get from a friend who keeps horses. One of the good things about horse manure is that it composts faster than other manures, and its dry pellets are easy to break up and spread.

My preference is horse manure, which I get from a friend who has several horses, and add it to my compost pile. In the fall I spread the manure over my raspberry bed, cover it with a layer of pine needles from my fall gutter cleanup, then gently rake this with a small hand rake to mix. Raspberries do best in more acidic soil, and the pine needles provide that.

And then there’s humanure. Many people cringe at the thought, but if you compost it properly with kitchen scraps and garden/yard debris, it gets hot enough to break down many pharmaceuticals and intestinal parasites. See my earlier posts: On Composting, Mulching, Humanure, & Sewage Sludge (July 2011) and Turning Human Waste into Compost: Humanure (Sept 2010).

Rotting wood

A permaculture technique known by its Austrian name, hugekultur, uses wood and woody debris to build up soil from the bottom up. One of the most important – and overlooked – aspects of soil health and vitality is the microbe and mycelium inhabitants that are vital for the health of your garden and landscape. They break down soil nutrients so that plants and trees can take them up and utilize them. Tilling the soil and/or the application of herbicides and pesticides destroy these vital life-giving components of the soil.

If your soil suffers from over-tilling or application of chemicals, consider hugekultur as a way to rebuild healthy levels of microbes and micelia to nurture your plants. If you start with rotting wood, the effect will happen faster than if you use just-fallen trees.

For more on mycelium, see Wikipedia on Mycelium (1).

See also my earlier post on Hugelkultur.

Wood ash

Another use of wood to feed your soil is wood ash from your fireplace. Wood ash is highly alkaline, so use it ONLY if your soil is too acidic for what you plan to grow. The best way to apply wood ash is to sprinkle it over the snow cover in winter, so that its alkalinity is diluted by the melting snow in the spring. Also, apply it sparingly.

I do not advise adding wood ash to your compost unless everything you grow likes alkaline soil; if your soil already has a pH of 7.5 or greater, you do not need the wood ash. It is far better to use in only on the soil where its alkalinity is needed, such as for (2):

  • Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, parsnips, peas and beans (pods are a better weight; and
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, red currants, and gooseberries. For certain other fruits including Plums, apricots, cherries and blackcurrants, wood ash is welcome but use less.


  1. Wikipedia on Mycelium.
  2. GrowVeg.com on wood ask

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