If you have been living under a rock these past few days, then you haven't heard about the 16 people in Europe who have DIED from E. coli-related disease as a result of eating cucumbers (or possibly other vegetables). (Link) DIED. Dead. Crossed over to the other side. No longer with us. Toes up. Six feet under. Sixteen people in less than a week. And there's another, oh, 1,500 or so folks who have sought treatment for the same E. coli outbreak.
Let me make something very clear here, People: cucumbers DO NOT cause E. coli outbreaks. POOP DOES. Yes, poop. Agribusiness still thinks it's perfectly safe to use animal manure to fertilize your food crops. Obviously, it's not. (CDC E. coli outbreaks) (FDA E. coli outbreaks)
I've gotten a lot of funny looks when I tell people that I'm growing a veganic garden (organic gardening without the use of animal or animal byproducts). As their eyes roll back into their their heads, I can hear their silent groan and know exactly what they are thinking: "Freakin' vegan nutcase." (Yes, I'm a nutcase but it has NOTHING to do with being vegan.) I'm here to tell you, you never have to worry about getting E. coli from eating out of my garden. Can you say the same about yours?
Anyway, my garden continues to grow, grow, grow like mad and I am thrilled. I've got BLOOMS on my bush beans, vines from my fava and Kentucky Wonder beans climbing up their poles, buds on several of my squash and melons, and I'm harvesting the last of the wonderful French Breakfast radishes.
From the beginning of this adventure, I was optimistic about the quality of the soil in my veggie bed. I knew the 7-layer burrito Tom and I created would do the trick. I just didn't think it would be so immediate. I figured this first year we would struggle a bit to get things to grow abundantly and then next season, after a year of decomposition and growing plants that would boost the soil's nutrients, things would go gangbusters. But my timing was a bit off because once the seeds were planted, there was no turning back for this veggie garden.
So far, my pest control has been very basic. One could say it involves hand jobs, carnivores, and India. Each morning, I go out to my garden and hand check every leaf of every plant. I turn the leaf over and look for tiny worms, aphids, and eggs and then squish any that are there. It sounds like a lot of work but it's not. Once your eye gets trained on what to look for, the process goes pretty quickly. Then there's the "good bug" factor. I'm happy to report that I've seen lady bugs in the garden and I just bought a couple of praying mantis egg cases that I will hang in my fava plants next week. Both of these bugs are carnivores and eat the previously mentioned offenders. On the "application" front, I've sprayed neem a couple of times onto plants that seem to be getting munched on the most (kale, okra, and golden beets). Neem comes from a tree in India where it is called the Wonder Tree (not very sustainable, I know, so I use it only when I'm desperate...and I'm currently looking for an alternative). Neem oil has been used for centuries in Indian agriculture as a natural pesticide and organic fertilizer. And boy does it work. Oh, and I recently noticed some mildew on my squash leaves and learned that a simple baking soda spray (one tablespoon baking soda mixed into one gallon of water) to the top of the leaves will not only stop the mildew, but prevent it in the first place. Who needs nasty chemicals when you've got baking soda and your own hands?!
As far as fertilizer goes, I've been scattering coffee grounds directly onto the soil (I try to stay about an inch or two away from the base of plants). Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium (what garden doesn't love that?!) and are not acidic as some believe (the acid ends up in the first brew of the coffee leaving barely a trace of it left in the grounds themselves). The coffee grounds' effect has been immediate...so much so that I was suspicious of a coincidence. When my okra plants were looking a little tired, I put the coffee grounds around them and the very next day, they were standing strong and tall. Hmmmm, I thought. Then I put some grounds around my kale plants and lo and behold, the next day, they had shot up about an inch and grown new leaves. So my plan is to continue with the coffee grounds both directly onto the soil as well as a "coffee tea" (1/2 lb. of wet coffee grounds in 5 gallons of water) which I will water with. In addition, I plan on augmenting the soil with stinging nettle tea, compost tea, and worm castings. Who would want to fertilize their food with poop when you've got coffee and tea?!!
And speaking of, this past holiday weekend, my lovely husband helped me check off a few things that had been in my garden to-do list for a while. One was to build the compost bin and the other was to make a home for my worms. Yes, I'm vermicomposting and am so excited about it.
The red worms came from Tom who has a ton of them in his compost pile. And by a ton, I mean thousands! He gave me about 200 or so and they seem to be loving their new home--they are eating away and even making babies! Yay!
And finally, I transplanted my tomato starters into larger pots. Once these guys are big enough, they will be transplanted one last time into the garden or into 5-gallon containers. I have 15 plants that have survived this far...we'll see how many last through the season.
So you're up to date on the veganic garden, although now that a few minutes have passed, so much has changed in the garden already. Just this morning I was out doing my regular routine and noticed my arugula and cilantro seeds bursting through the soil as well as the second round of purple basil I planted last week.
All this success without animal manure and E. coli. Imagine that.