Owls are garden friends at the Las Flores Community Garden, where two owl nest boxes were built on strong posts along the fence, as in the picture above. Owls are great hunters of rodents and help keep mice, rabbits, and squirrels from eating the growing veggies in the garden. Owls don’t make their own nests; they take over useful structures and abandoned nests. Barn owls, which are the size of cats, are the most likely garden partners. Kids can attract owls to their garden by building a sturdy wooden owl house that is the right size for a pair of barn owls and their young. Kids can build the wooden box 38 by 18 by 12 inches with the entrance 6 inches above the base of the box. The oval entrance hole can be 4 ½ wide by 3 ¾ inches tall and should be facing the north to keep the sun from heating up the box. The house need a drainage hole on the bottom and should be cleaned out once a year. Place the owl house high on a post or on top of a structure. In the midwest, there are almost no barn owls left because they are not at home in large fields planted with neat rows of chemically sprayed GMO corn or soybeans. Owls like meadows, grasslands, and open areas where mice and other small prey animals live. The Las Flores Community Garden sits in an open area with lots of rodents for food and two nesting boxes for the owl families.
An heirloom or heritage variety of plant must be open pollinated, where the pollen from one plant is spread to another by insects or by the wind. Seeds saved from heritage plants will breed true to its parent plant, and all heritage seeds are free from genetic modification. After World War II, industrial agriculture became widespread, using F1 hybrid seeds, which do not breed true to the parent and are often sterile. Traditionally all farmers and gardeners saved their own seeds, now three corporations own 75% of all seeds grown on the planet. Before 1950, most plants were bred to fulfill the needs of the home gardener, with local climate, flavor, and variety being most important. F1 hybrid plants are bred for uniformity, the ability to withstand transportation, and crops that ripen at the same time. The United States has lost 90% of its food plant biodiversity over the last hundred years with a 50% loss of food varieties worldwide. Open pollinated seeds, unlike hybrid seeds, can adapt to changing environmental conditions growing in the field or garden and interact with the varying site needs. Seed Savers Exchange, The Heritage Seed Library, local seed swaps, and seed banks around the world are a vital part of restoring heirloom plants. A cabbage that thrives in Maine is a different variety from a Southern Californian cabbage variety. Home gardeners can grow organic open pollinated varieties that are particular for their climate and then save and swap seeds with their neighbors to conserve biodiversity and limit corporate control of food seeds.
In a world of unbridled rage, kids are facing bullying in the playground and in society. Families are searching for a kinder and more sustainable way of being. Organic gardening and cooking from the garden provides the most nutrient rich diet, and both gardening and cooking are stress reducers that bring feelings of accomplishment, responsibility, and happiness. Pointing kids to the joys of growing their own organic food instills positive eating habits, leadership skills, and better attitudes. Kindness begins at home by stocking the pantry with organic whole grains, organic dried beans, and organic dried fruits and nuts and removing processed foods.
Everything is connected, and the world reflects the consequences of our choices, including our eating habits. Chemical fertilizers on the food plants are harming the microorganisms in the soil. Every cubic inch of healthy organic soil is a miniature world of beneficial living organisms that feed all living things on our planet. This micro-universe takes the organic material in the soil and turns it into useable food and nutrients for the plant, which grows veggies rich with nutrients for kids. Herbicides are killing medicinal plants and reducing our food diversity. Pesticides are killing the bees and butterflies. There are atrocities that happen to millions of kind and gentle animals worldwide on a daily basis.
Many families today are rebuilding their health with nutritious food that is also good for the planet, by growing organic food right where they live in containers and raised bed gardens. Certain premade foods contain chemicals that cause addictive cravings that are quite similar to the cravings of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Processed foods, refined frozen meals, and fast foods stimulate dopamine, the brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter. One in four Americans eats fast food every day and 20% of American meals are eaten in the car. Much of the world’s economy depends on this addiction. As it causes health issues, the pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry benefit; meanwhile our doctors are attending educational seminars sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies. Some of these prescription drugs are addictive and cause aggressive and irrational behavior. If we eliminated foods that cause health problems, many powerful food corporations, agricultural conglomerates, and drug industries would collapse.
When kids grow an organic veggie garden, they want to eat what they grow. Packaged, processed foods lose their addictive hold after kids taste the fresh bold flavors of just picked organic berries. What food could be faster than picking fruit from the vine? Kids can learn kindness in the garden by caring for their plants, providing food and shelter plants for their garden partners (birds, bees, and butterflies), and harvesting healthy food for their whole family. A 10’ x 20’ plot at the Community Garden can feed a family of four. Cultivate your garden and live in daily expectation of wonder.
When families grow an organic raised bed garden where they live, they have easy access to fresh organic food and benefit from a sanctuary that restores them mentally, physically, and emotionally. The raised bed can be a 5’ x 4’ wooden container in a site that gets 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, away from trees and high winds. A planter box of cement or rocks edging a wall is a productive raised bed as plants growing off the ground aren’t as easy a prey for pests and disease. Raised beds warm up quicker for earlier planting and extended growing season. Staggering the plantings of veggies is accomplished easier as kids can reach, rotate and harvest crops over an extended growing season in a small raised bed. Kids can terrace their veggie plants to capture the most sun and grow a bigger harvest by putting the tallest ones in the back and the shorter ones in front. A trellis can be attached to the raised bed to keep vines weed and water free. Kids can fill their raised garden bed with organic soil and compost from their compost bin, garden center, or local organic soil company. To save time, money, and water, kids can easily add a drip watering system or a soaker hose with a battery run timer so that watering takes place at the best time of day for maximum absorption and minimal evaporation. Filling the raised bed with fresh balanced organic soil creates a perfect start to growing abundant fruit and veggies. Kids can add castings from Red Wriggler worms that create the highest quality compost with nutrients and micro-organisms for water retention, air flow, and minerals and make the best fertilizer for the soil and the best food for the plants. Kids can hardly wait to taste the healthy variety of homegrown fruit and vegetables that they have grown in their organic raised bed garden.
“Biochar’s high carbon content and porous composition helps soil to retain water, nutrients, protect soil microbes, and ultimately increase crop yields while growing healthier, more productive, disease-resistant plants. All the while helping combat global climate change by sequestering and stabilizing rich organic carbon in your soil,” explained Michael Wittman.
Biochar is a charcoal soil amendment that has been made in Asia, often from bamboo, for thousands of years to increase plant productivity. Charcoal been used for years as an air and water filter. “A natural amendment,” said Michael Wittman, “biochar is a microscopic honeycomb that holds beneficial soil bacteria, moisture, and nutrients.” It can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, and do its job in the soil for hundreds of years. Like a fire in the forest leaves charred wood to enrich the forest floor, biochar enriches the soil by retaining moisture and nutrients. Bamboo biochar has ten times more surface area, a fixed nutrient ratio, more water retention, and absorbs more soluble nutrients than other biochar derived from wood, straw, or manure. Delicate beneficial fungi are difficult to keep in the soil, but biochar can build fungal qualities in all types of soil.
Touring Michael Wittman’s Thousand Oaks garden, Organic Garden Club members learned how to make biochar from wood burning in a small kiln. To keep gophers, squirrels, birds, and bunnies out of the veggies, Michael built a wire house under and around his raised bed garden and hung his tomatoes from the roof. He grows strawberries and herbs in satellite dishes for easy reach with a fire pit cover to keep out the critters. To harvest the rain water, he has two large 350 gallon tanks connected to the rain gutters from his roof with a hose at the side of the tanks to water the garden. He keeps his compost in a wire house, where he mixes it with biochar to provide a home for the growing bacteria and fungi.
The process of making biochar pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it to enrich the soil and grow plants that breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. With biochar you can as Michael said, “Leave your carbon footprint in the garden…”
Microbes have been living on Earth for 3.7 billion years and perform such vital services that all other creatures on Earth would die without them. Microbes are in the air, the soil, the food, as well as in the human body, especially the skin and intestines. Half the cells in our body are microbial, many are helpful and only a few are destructive. Microbes break down organic substances and change their chemical makeup when foods are fermented, such as yogurt, bread, pickles, and soy sauce, making fermented foods gut healthy. Nutritionists encourage a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods to support a healthy microbial community in a healthy body. Processed food has chemical additives that have been shown to disturb microbes. Antibiotics kill susceptible bacteria but not resistant bacteria which multiply and become more common. Kids should take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by the doctor and avoid antibacterial soaps, lotions, and cleansers. Instead, kids can wash their hands with soap and water, which wash all kinds of bacteria down the drain, and wash often to avoid infection. The microbial cells and human cells work together to keep kids healthy. There are many kinds of microbes in the human body performing many tasks, like helping to digest our food, fighting harmful bacteria in the gut, and developing our immune system. Studies have shown that kids in big families or that go to day care are less likely to suffer from asthma and allergies. Kids that live on farms and interact with farm animals have the lowest rates of allergy and asthma. Kids that grow up with dogs, cats, and horses are also less affected. Antidepressant microbes in soil bacteria produce serotonin bringing happiness and healing to kids and gardeners rooting about in the soil. Kids that spend time outdoors, playing in nature, and growing an organic veggie garden are healthier and happier.
Kids that grow organic veggie gardens can become good stewards of the land, growing their own independence and self sufficiency. The soil is alive! Every cubic inch of healthy soil is a miniature world of beneficial living organisms that feed all living things on our planet. This micro-universe takes the organic material in the soil and turns it into useable food and nutrients for the plant, which grows veggies rich with nutrients for kids. When a plant seed begins to grow the first thing to emerge is the primary root to absorb food and water from the soil. Beautiful veggie root systems aerate the soil and feed the microorganisms that feed nutrients to the plant. Roots bind the soil, hold the plants in position, and draw water, minerals, and nutrients from the soil to feed the plant. Kids can feed the soil with living compost to increase the biodiversity of soil microorganisms. Many of the microorganisms form intimate relationships with roots to increase their ability to utilize water and nutrients. Fungi break down dead organic matter in the compost to release valuable nutrients into the soil. Some plant roots and fungi grow together. The fungi radiates through the soil and forms a velvety covering over the plant roots, greatly increasing the contact with the soil and passing the minerals and nutrients to the plant, while the fungus absorbs sugars from the root cells. Kids can mulch their garden with organic materials to add essential elements contained in the dead plants and make them available to the next generation of plants. Kids can make their plants healthier and able to resist pests and pathogens by feeding the soil compost and mulch. Studies have shown that kids exposed to soil develop a stronger immune system, fewer allergies, and perform better in school.