the show

Young Urban Farmers

air date: October 4, 2014

Red Dirt Ramblings author Dee Nash dishes up the real dirt on gardening in her book The 20/30 Something  Garden Guide.  Written for new soil grubbers, veterans will also whoop about her colorful graphic designs, DIY instructions, and plants from food to fragrance.  On tour, meet the young gardeners at Ten Acre Organics who turned suburban lawn into front yard food and backyard aquaponics. Daphne explains why vegetables fail in new raised beds. Her plant of the week is Swiss chard, a tasty perennial for the kitchen and a pretty addition to ornamental beds. Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center compares the best mulches.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Ten Acre Organics

At Ten Acre Organics, young gardeners turned a typical 1970s suburban lawn into front yard food and backyard aquaponics.  Egged on by content chickens, co-founders Michael Hanan and Lloyd Minick feed the future vision of neighborhoods uniting in urban farms.  As a drop-off site for East Side Compost Pedallers, they nurture dead soil with compost for water-resourceful, healthy food to supply a community of restaurants and neighbors.

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Question of the Week

Why did seedlings die in my new raised bed with good soil and compost?

Gee, we thought we were doing the right thing in our new raised beds with great soil, compost, the right width, the right height. So what happened to all my new seedlings and transplants?

Well, that soil and compost, whether pre-mixed onsite at the soil yard in bags or bulk, or mixed to order according to your instructions, has been sitting in piles and drying out.

You faithfully water each plant, or maybe even the entire bed, but after just a short time, you notice the seedlings are struggling, and they all die pretty quickly.

Everyone’s thoughts immediately jump to the conclusion that it must be some sort of disease: extremely unlikely. Or the possibility of herbicide damage: more likely than disease but still not the most common problem.

No, the issue is lack of water. But “wait!” you say, I just told you that I faithfully water my plants. And I say, I know that, but you’re not watering your soil. And new soil, having been completely and utterly dried out when you purchased it, has no ability to get wet until you thoroughly mix it with water.

The best way to do this is to wet it and turn it and wet it and turn it, until it’s uniformly moist, BEFORE you fill your raised bed with it. But if you didn’t do that, no worries, simply wet it and turn it and wet it and turn it in the bed.

The soil can now hold water and your new seedlings will have a much better chance of survival.

The exception is the possibility that the organic matter in your mix of new soil was contaminated with an herbicide that didn’t break down during the composting process. If that’s the case, your new seedlings will have distinct symptoms, usually leaf-curl and yellowing, prior to dying completely. We’ve had this issue in our demonstration garden and we watched to see how long it took the soil to remediate, without replacing it. It only took one season, and the plants were growing normally again.

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Plant of the Week

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is perfect for winter gardens and very easy to grow from seeds or transplants in fall.  It comes in many different beautiful colors, all of which add striking interest in your garden while many other plants are dormant and leafless. This healthy edible plant is one you’ll want to include if you’re growing winter vegetables, but you should also consider it even if you’re not. It looks great in the landscape right along with your other ornamental plants, even among your spring wildflowers. Swiss chard does best in full sun, though it can take some shade. It only needs moderate water. You can plant it alone, as a single plant, but it also looks great in group plantings of three to five. Mix in some of the bright red cultivars in one spot, and use some of the yellow and red in another. Getting much taller than they do wide, plant Swiss chard only about 6 inches apart. There are many great cultivars for Central Texas, including the heirloom, ‘Fordhook Giant’. In many gardens, Swiss chard is a perennial that will go through summer.