Organic Gardening
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Organic Gardening



bill300doubletextOrganic gardening


At Mystical Ventures, organic gardening is the goal, but that is not to say we have arrived there yet. If one is living a sustainable lifestyle, one is trying to sustain oneself and one’s family, and at the same time, put back into the earth a bit more than what one took out. The Native American Indians spoke of planting for the “seventh generation,” meaning one took from the earth and replenished it so it would sustain one’s children up to the seventh generation. Organic gardening has undergone several definitions of late and as more and more farmers have elected to grow organically, formal and legal definitions have emerged for what exactly can be labeled “certified organic”. Today, in the United States, The Certified Organic label means that the grower has:

1. Compiled with the Final Rule of the National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agriculture

2. Documented that fact on paper
3. Been inspected and approved by a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (1)


Anne Larkin Hansen, in her text, The Organic Farming Manual, indicates that many organic growers follow the rules, but don’t go through the certification process, because of the paperwork and the cost. For many small scale farmers, who sell under $5000 worth of products per year, who also have a written farm plan, documenting all farm inputs and practices, the Final Rule offers an exception to call one’s produce “organic”. Many farmers who are not yet completely “organic” are referred to as “sustainable farmers”. We would fall into that category. Larkin says that sustainable farmers “presumably employ soil conserving and nutrient cycling practices such as management-intensive grazing, contour cropping, and composting” (2). These practices are basic to organic gardening. Organic farming, according to the Final Rule, found in more detail at:


“generally prohibits the use of man-made pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, as well as antibiotics, hormone treatments, genetically modified organisms, sewage sludge, and the feeding of animal by-products to livestock” (3).


seedsnewSustainable Gardening at MV

Practically speaking, that means at MV, we try not to use harsh chemicals or pesticides on plants or in the soil, we study our own soil to see what it lacks and what it has in abundance and to try to balance it for fruitful growing. We compost regularly and use chicken and goat manure in the fall to replenish the beds, we rotate crops, and shift grazing areas. It means Bill begins pouring over seed catalogs in January to plan the garden and whenever possible, tries to start with organic seeds. The catalog, Seeds of Change, is a good resource:  among others. 

Sustainable gardening also means using organic materials to build up the soil, from all those lovely falling leaves in our New England autumns, to adding piles of straw to decompose back into the soil. It means we try to ward off the little critters that would also like to eat our fruits and veggies, with natural biology whenever possible. For instance, the slugs around our strawberries and hostas just love a pint ‘o beer at the end of the day. It turns out to be the end of their days, too. For fly control at MV, we regularly use “fly predators,” a tiny wasp, whose whole life is devoted to eating the eggs of flies. God bless those little creatures. I just heard a newscast that they are trying to develop a mosquito to eat other mosquitos…..wouldn’t that be a blessing?


In our little corner of God’s good earth, we grow vegetables, fruits and nuts in the orchard, berries, flowers, shade plants, ground covers and shrubs. We also live in New England with lots of pine trees, pine cones and acorns, so the soil is acidic. We are in zone 5-6, depending on the catalog, and our winters do go below zero IMG 0992-sz400on occasion, but not frequently. COLD in winter usually means single digits. Snow, often called the poor man’s fertilizer, is anyone’s guess. Some winters we have snow three times a week, and other winters we barely see it at all. This is New England; the old adage goes: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Summers can be hot and humid and one may have to water gardens to harvest any fruit. In our area, everyone has their own well; we do not have town or city water, but we do have to conserve in dry spells. Organic gardening is about caring for the earth as one plants, tends and harvests the fruits of one’s labor.

Mulching as a Norm
Bill and I are avid fans of Ruth Stout’s methodology for gardening. Ruth Stout (1884-1980) was a pioneer in mulching. She really loved to garden, but wanted to enjoy it and not kill herself with all the hard work of weeding and plowing and painstakingly making the gardens look picture perfect. She advocated mulching the soil heavily with straw (straw, not hay; hay has too many weed seeds) or dead leaves or even old newspaper, at least 4-5 inches to start and then replenishing it each year with more mulch. As the mulch breaks down, it enriches the soil and “gives back” some of the nutrients one may be taking out. (It also works much better than black plastic; plastic doesn’t enrich the soil.) IMG 1162Then, when one wants to plant something, all that is needed is to pull back the mulch, discover some rich soil, usually teaming with earth worms after a couple years, plant your plant or seeds and pull back the mulch (if seeding, don’t cover completely).

Ruth’s methods were studied by the Penn State Agricultural School, especially through the works of Professor Richard V. Clemence and her books are still around for those who want to follow her methodology. She and Richard Clemence actually wrote one together: The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, and her methods have been explored by scientists and seed production houses. The above text mentions scientists at Cornell University (Department of Vegetable Crops) and agrogeny professors at the University of Connecticut among others. Some of her other books include:

How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening (New York: Exposition Press, 1955).

Gardening Without Work, for the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent (Norton Creek Press: ); originally printed in 1961 by the Devon-Adair Company .



There are also numerous magazines about organic gardening with more and more hitting the shelves as we speak. Our old time favorite is still Organic Gardening by Rondale House: They continue to bring the organic world into our living room each year.


Below are some resources we have used through the years and have proven exceptional.

James Underwood Crockett, Crockett’s Victory Garden (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1977).

James Underwood Crockett, Vegetables and Fruits, Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening (New York: Time-Life books, 1972).

Gary Hirshberg and Tracy Calvan, eds. The New Alchemy Institute Staff, Gardening For all Seasons: The Complete Guide to Producing Food at Home, Andover, MA: Brick House Publishing, 1983).

Stella Otto, The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden (Empire, Michigan: OttoGraphics, 1993).

Anne Larkin Hansen, The Organic Farming Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Running a Certified Organic Farm (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2010).

Michael Phillips, The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011).


  1. 1.Anne Larkin Hansen, The Organic Farming Manual (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2010) p. 2
  2. 2.Ibid., p. 3
  3. 3.Ibid.


The Orchard, before and after  


Sandy-aand-Pepere004newfont8Our orchard has been a new endeavor, measuring 80 feet by 80 feet and wrapped with split rail fencing around it. When we first moved into this land in the early 70s, we did so with my in-laws. They lived with us for several years before they built next door to us. Bill, Sr., or “Pepere” as he is known lovingly throughout the family, plowed that section of the earth and put the vegetable garden there. After they moved, we continued that practice and even put in raised beds with cobblestones until the woodchucks and rabbits got the upper hand and we decided to build raised beds INSIDE the chain linked fenced backyard for our veggies. The cobblestones went to Pepere and Nana’s new home. That piece of land became overgrown in no time with brush and nasty thorn bearing locust trees. So, a few years ago, we had tree removers come in and had everything cut to the ground except for a few fruit trees. We heavily mulched the area with straw and bought Ayla-with-Peperenewtextgoats to try to keep the other sections of the overgrowth under control. The goats did a marvelous job. After mulching for a while, we salvaged four pear trees and one apple tree and decided that a small orchard was doable, and then began planning to add more trees.
We bought most of our fruit trees from Stark Trees ( and they have been very good. The first year we put in two more pear trees and five more apple, six plum trees and three cobblestone-raised-beds008-300apricot trees. The second year, we added ten peach trees and this year Bill added four nut trees: two almond and two hazelnut, all either dwarf or semi-dwarf so we could reach them without ladders.   We planted as instructed and watered regularly and mulched the orchard completely with straw.  The first year we got two small baskets of pears and about a half dozen apples. The second year we got about a bushel of pears and a few more apples. Last year, after a very mild winter, we had a crazy spring with temperatures soaring to the mid-80s in March and then plummeting to the 20s the following week. The trees bloomed and set flowers, only to loose them the following week. We’re back to a few baskets of pears this year and a few apples; the new trees lost whatever fruit they were trying to set. During this past summer of 2013, however, some of the trees recovered.  We got about two bushels of pears, eight bushels of peaches and aobut three bushels of apples!  God is good!


 A word on meditation in the orchard…..quiet benches for reflection



One of the things we do have at Mystical Ventures are a few benches that one may use to rest or to pause and reflect. Our logo takes its cue from a bench in the orchard and we have another on the north side of the house. It is good sometimes to sit and feel the breezes or listen to the snow crunching or birds singing. Quiet must be a part of our lives if we are to listen to God.







 MV Monthly Gardening Corner


Each month, MV hopes to share some practical information about how one can begin to construct their own garden, or orchard and/or what needs to be addressed that particular month. So, as our initial offering, we can tell you how we have constructed raised beds, out of what and why, in what size and why, filled it with what and why, and how one can begin. This first Gardening Corner will also discuss what one is doing in the garden in the month of September.



Visit our Gardening Corner for monthly tips...

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