West Mountain Farm

Pastured Pigs, Free-Range Chickens, Biodynamic Gardening, Homesteading

Archive for the category “Organic and Biodynamic Gardening How-To”

Putting Your Garden to Bed and Preparing the Homestead for Winter

Now is the time to start the process of putting your garden to bed. Things are in their last push and other warm weather loving plants are dying, consecutive cold days and nights are coming, so pick everything you can ASAP, dry herbs, make green tomato relish, freeze bell peppers, dehydrate, freeze, etc. Remove disease and bug harbors like dead tomato vines, other nightshades, and curcubits (squash and cucumbers). Okra, corns stalks, and dead herb branches can be incorporated into the soil or composted. Adding mulch and organic matter is the most important, which can protect perennials, bulbs, and the soil structure itself. Now is also a great time to add soil amendments that will be bioavailable for your garden next spring. Lime all the beds that are going to rest for winter. Taking care of your investment of garden tools is important if you want to get all the life out of them that they are worth. Collect them from the yard, give them a quick clean, let them dry in the sun, oil movable parts, and sharpen blades. If nothing else, get them out of the weather in a barn or shed to protect them from the elements. If you are feeling really spunky you can organize them in buckets and crates and maybe even make a wall and peg board to hang them to save space and have them handy.  Don’t forget about your plant cages and support systems.  Clean up space in the barn to store hay and feed. Now is a good time to get a good deal on hay if you help farmers collect directly out of the field, saving them work and storage. Protect your investment from mice with a good barn cat and/or pet safe rodent poison/traps. Sealed barrels for your feed is a good idea year round. Do some coop and stall mucking and apply directly to resting beds (don’t apply on beds intended for winter crops) give your animals fresh bedding that can be hay, straw, and saw dust. Get your floating row covers, hoop houses, and cold frames out to ready them for fall crop protection. Add gentle soil refreshers to fall crop beds such as sweet, finished compost, worm castings, sea kelp, soft rock phosphate, mushroom compost, etc. Avoid anything that will burn tender seedlings or might carry pathogens. Its a good time for green cover crops like vetch. Seeding and planting transplant fall crops as soon as their beds are ready. Get your seasoned fire wood stacked, covered loosely, and convenient to bring into the house on cold, blustery days ahead. Start thinking about how you are going to keep your animals water thawed. Pull up irrigation and winterize outdoor spigots. Get your root crops, apples, pears, potatoes, fall squash cured and ready for storage. If you have a root cellar or basement you’re one lucky dog. If not find a cool, dark, dry spot in the house, wrap fruits in newspaper and store loosely in cardboard boxes, bags, or crates.  They will be nice and sweet in a few months as the carbs transform into more sugar. Store your root crops loosely, but its not as essential to wrap them up individually as they don’t put off ethylene gas. Check on them periodically for winter and eat things that are going downhill and throw the bad stuff to the hogs or chickens (unless its absolutely horrible moldy). Feed, feed, feed your animals to store fat for the cold days. Chickens are probably molting so give them non-medicated gamebird feed, calf manna, and flock blocks. If you are hunter they enjoy to pick the carcass clean, just no gut piles. They need the extra protein to renew their feathers and get back to making eggs. If you are a hunter get in the woods and stock your freezer! Your green house is another things to consider collecting, organizing, starting greens and other fodder crops.  Use your space efficiently and you will reap bountifully year round.

Don’t get too wrapped up in work though, take a stroll through the woods and enjoy the colors of autumn, the leaves will fall before you know it. Do some yoga in the woods to rest your body from all the work taking care of a homestead entails, the earthy smells of the forest will sweeten your practice. Watch for fall goodies like mushrooms, apples, pears, and persimmons. Make bouquets and take them to friends, the drive will give you more scenic pleasure and the visits you made with friends will be comforting when cabin fever sets in. Happy Homesteading!

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Dipel Dust – A Biological Insecticide

Dipel Dust is a biological insecticide used against caterpillars, leaf eating worms, and other larvae, it is certified by OMRI (Organic Material Review Institute) for use in organic production. It is a microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt, subspecies kurstaki strain that is lethal to a variety of larvae after ingesting small amounts. It is safe for mammals, bees, birds, aquatic life, earthworms, pollinators, and many other beneficial insects. The only downside is that it will kill butterfly caterpillars, but as long as you use it sparingly and keep it off their favorite plants (rue or wormwood for example) you probably won’t notice any less butterfly activity. It is essential for organic brassica crops, because it kills loopers, cabbageworms, and more. If you have a tomato hornworm or fruitworm problem you can safely use it on your tomatoes. We prefer handpicking and interplanting with basil to deter them, we never seem to have much of a problem with hornworms. Mixing some in water and dipping seedlings in the mixture before you plant will take care of cutworms while your plants get established. Webworms, leafrollers, tent caterpillars and other tree and shrub pest can be taken care of with a generous dusting. Sod webworms bothering your lawn fall victim to Bt. This is only a small example of a large list of caterpillars and worms Dipel Dust is lethal to when ingested in small amounts.

Bt is usually used in a powder form, but can also be bought in a liquid form and sprayed on plants. Some people have had success injecting squash vines to stop the squash vine borers, timing is essential though, it must be done before too much damage has occurred.

I mix Dipel Dust in my potting soil for seedlings and houseplants, if I didn’t I would lose many plants to the larvae of the fungus gnats. They are a serious greenhouse and indoor plant pest. The adult flying gnat doesn’t bite or feed, but they are an indicator that you have a fungus gnat problem. The larvae cause damage by feeding on roots, plant exudates, algae, and fungus in the soil. They are a disease vector and slow down plant growth. They are the same gnats you may find in your fruit bowl. Bt sprinkled in all potting soil will prevent the problem from starting and clear up an infestation.

Dipel Dust mixed in potting soil, ready for seedlings.

Dipel Dust mixed in potting soil, ready for seedlings.

Mosquito Dunks are the israeli strain of Bacillus thuringiensis, it is a very effective, safe, and easy control of this summer pest.

Don’t be alarmed if you still see small amounts of the pest, as the adult that lays the eggs are not killed, and the worm/larvae must eat some of the plant material that has the Bt on it, then the worm will stop feeding and die shortly. Wasp and birds can still visit your garden for a snack if used sparingly, or if you get behind on dusting. I don’t mind sharing a little with the wildlife.

Regular use of Bt will greatly reduce crop damage done by fast eating caterpillars. Now you no longer have to eat lacy kale or cabbage, or spray large amounts of chemical pesticides on beloved trees under attack by worms.

Frost Dates

Reading the signs of nature is always tantamount to determining when to plant and when to harvest, but scientific, compiled data is another tool to use to help guide your gardening decisions. Average first and last frost dates is an essential tool that is referred to by seasoned and novice gardeners. Victory Seeds has easy to use tables based on what state you live in to help you use scientific data to guess when your areas most likely first and last frost date will occur. Going by these dates you can prevent plant losses and stunted growth from a late freeze, and you can count back (days to maturity) from your frost date if you want to do a late planting of corn or anything else.

Taking the temperature of the soil in different areas of the garden/property can also give you ideas on where and when to plant things. I use a long cooking thermometer that has a ride range, not only can it be used for roast, but compost piles, and taking soil temps. You can find your hot and cold pockets. Raised beds generally warm up quicker than earth level beds. All if this information can be used to your advantage. For example, you can plant glacier salad tomatoes early in a warmer bed for early season tomatoes or a second spring lettuce crop in an area that stays cool longer. If you live in mountainous terrains you will find that hillsides will vary greatly in temperature. This can be helpful for wildcrafting and foraging, morels anyone ;)!

Right now is a good time to transplant many perennials if done gently and quickly.

The garden is *’waking up‘* so I know its time to put spring bulbs, onions, peas, and potatoes in the ground. *Click on this link for a sweet Radioactive remix that has nothing to do with gardening, but is great for monotonous chores.


Black Cap Raspberry Swelling Buds


Asiatic Lilies Emerging


Pixwell Gooseberry Buds Opening


Seedlings and 2013 Varieties


Its the end of winter with spring steadily approaching, its time to start planning your garden, planting dormant trees and berries, cool weather crops, ordering from the steady influx of catalogs, and starting seedlings. I am a self confessed seed, bulb, tuber, and anything garden addict. A simple trip to Lowe’s for screws and I return with dahlia tubers, gladiola bulbs, lily bulbs, asparagus crowns and horseradish . For an early start on these I have put them in pots in the greenhouse (last year I did this in the house) and will wait until the soil is around 55 degrees to plant in the garden. The asparagus may be planted directly in the ground right now, if they are still dormant. I suggest going to your local gardening stores, the Farmer’s Co-op, Lowe’s, or Wal-mart early to get your onions, potatoes, bulbs, etc. before they run out and before they lose quality. The warmth and the light in the stores causes everything to think its spring and break dormancy too early. Later in the season you may even have to pick through moldy and rotted selections. If you aren’t ready to plant yet place everything in cardboard or paper bags in the garage or  in your fridge, they need cool temperatures and minimal light exposure to stay dormant. Most things like to be slightly moist and have some air circulation. Checking on them frequently isn’t a bad idea either, rotten or moldy things need to be thrown out immediately.

It is time for seedlings to be started indoors for zone 7, peppers and eggplants need a 6-8 week start and tomatoes need a 4-8 week start. When starting seeds a heat mat or heat coil improves germination and makes a better root system for most plants (columbines and bachelor buttons don’t like the heat). Seedlings need water, sterile potting soil for seedlings, air circulation, proper temperature (55-75 F) and a strong light. Fertilization isn’t required until they get their second set of leaves. Watering and fertilizing from the bottom is best, but don’t let them sit in water. Some flowers like to be started indoors as well, such as rudbeckia and chrysanthemums. Herbs love an early start, basil being fun and beginner friendly, you also get to eat the pruned tops, a nice treat when the weather is still chipper. For those plants that resist transplanting now is a time to get a head start on bed preparation, so they will be ready to sow as soon as it warms up.

This is an introduction to my massive seed collection/obsession and what will be in our garden this year.

I buy many of my seeds from Baker Creek, they are dedicated to non-gmo, anti-monsanto heirloom varieties, they are located in Missouri which qualifies for local in my book, and have ethical business practices as far as I know. Some of the varieties from them I have grown or will be growing again this year are : roma 2 bush beans, fledderjohn soybeans/edamame, ianto’s fava bean, oriental scarlet poppy, love-in-a-mist flowers (above picture), mammoth red rock cabbage, black palm tree cabbage, long island improved brussel sprouts, okra hill country heirloom red, clemson spineless okra, thai round green eggplant, diamond eggplant, fengyuan purple eggplant, ping tung eggplant, beit alpha cucumber, orange bell, albino bullnose bell, golden california wonder bell, emerald giant bell, chinese five color hot pepper, red mushroom hot pepper. The tomato varieties are: amana orange, cream sausage, carbon, cherokee purple, homestead, bonnie best, pantano romanesco, san marzano lungo No.2, amish paste, pink brandywine, egg yolk, mini orange, ozark pink, hssiao his hung shih, black cherry, gypsy purple, dr. wyche’s yellow, and ananas noire.

Baker Creek varieties to take special note of are: the love-in-a-mist flowers, which were sowed in a minimally prepared bed mid-summer and performed quickly and were an interesting looking flower and seed pod. The clemson spineless were not spineless not spine free and quite fibrous, they were only good picked small and pickled. All eggplants performed wonderfully except the diamond, which was minimal, but had a nice quality and kept well for an italian type eggplant. Beit alpha cucumber had too large of seeds and somewhat tough skin, which made it a good pickler when they were small. All bells produced like crazy, the albino bullnose was somewhat bitter, and the golden california was one of the sweetest bells i’ve ever had, the emerald giant was thick walled and picture perfect, great for cooking and freezing.  One plant of each hot pepper took care of my cooking, drying, and canning needs, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. The cherokee purple and amana orange both got diseases and were pulled before production. The cream sausage was a semi-determinate white paste that produced very well and stayed nicely compact, they would be great for containers and small gardens, they lacked in fresh flavor but made up for it in making a tasty, very light colored yellow sauce with few small seeds.  The gypsy purple produced abundant amounts of slicing sized tomatoes (racquetball sized) with an out of this world taste, they made the best dehydrated/sun dried tomatoes that were a fantastic winter treat in many dishes. The gypsy purple is the BEST producing black/purple tomato I have ever grown, even in last years hot dry summer. Hssiao his hung shih is a yellow pear that can only be described as ridiculous! It produces up until frost MILLIONS of sweet yellow grape tomatoes, it literally flowed over 6 foot tall cages and rooted in the ground and kept producing, a must have for any garden. Ananas noire, black pineapple, not impressed, a waste of space in my opinion. Big and impressive would be the pink brandywine, it never fails me, or anyone else I have met that has grown or eaten them. The pink brandywine was made for BLTs!

My favorite herb and flower seed company is The Thyme Garden a family based non-GMO seed, supplies, hops, and mushroom company based out of Oregon. They have many unusual and medicinal herbs and flower seeds that have a great germination rate, probably due to their beekeeping practices. They are also true stewards of the land with their salmon projects and many organic gardens.  The basil varieties I purchased are: mammoth, purple ruffles, italian large leaf, rosie, digenova, genovese, emily, and quenette. My favorite is the emily which is a small genovese with very tender leaves, great for container or limited space gardening and pesto lovers. Corsican mint and mixed creeping thyme are ‘walkable varieties.’ The corsican mint isn’t for heavy traffic, but it smells delicious and isn’t invasive, it is used in making creme d’ menthe. The creeping thymes aren’t much for culinary use, but look good and attract bees galore when in bloom from reds to white carpets. Salad burnet, roman chamomile, german chamomile, mammoth dill, centaury, white and blue borage, nasturtiums, lemon and tangerine marigold are other seeds I ordered from them. Borage is said to improve the flavor of tomatoes when planted together, and the flowers are edible and a nice addition to a salad or dessert.

Happy shopping and gardening!


A temporary grow space can be set up if you don’t have a green house. A 400 watt metal halide purchased from Grow Fresh was sufficient for this space.

Improving Soil

Good soil structure is paramount to a successful garden and is the first (earlier the better) place you should start when planning and preparing a garden. Tilth refers to the physical condition of the soil, good soil tilth is loose and friable to a depth that allows for good root penetration and proper drainage. Water shouldn’t stand for long in the garden nor should it run out immediately, proper drainage is a balance of the two extremes. Good soil should also be porous (small spaces for air) and resistant to compaction.

Soil is generally categorized as sandy, loamy, or clayey, the higher percentage of loam you have in your soil is generally better. Digging one spade deep into the ground and inspecting the soil when it is slightly moist (you should never work the soil when it is soaking wet or bone dry, it is not fun and it destroys the soil structure) should give you a good idea of what type of soil you have in various parts of your property. Obviously, you should select the sight with the best soil, proper drainage, and 8 plus hours of sun a day, but sometimes we don’t have this trifecta of garden heaven and we have to take matters into our own hands-soil amendment at our selected sight or existing garden spot.

If you have sandy soil and plan on planting something other than drought tolerant plants that like excellent drainage such as: rosemary, sunflowers, and succulents adding organic matter  will make your soil more loamy and retain moisture. Loamy soils need to be maintained over the years, add back as much or more of what you take out, leaving the earth better than when you started. Clayey soil needs greensand, regular sand, and organic matter to break up the clay and improve drainage. Clay soil also needs a load of topsoil to give you working soil in your lifetime (don’t break your back or wallet on clay soil). Barnyard manure (rabbit, cow, and chicken being my personal favorites) that is mixed with natural bedding such as straw is your top choice; it adds moisture retaining properties, nutrients, and microbes that bring your soil to life in each smelly shovelful. Add manure that is well-rotted or add it in winter time at least 2 months before planting. Other soil amendments that give your soil proper drainage and aeration are coffee grounds, peat moss, coco coir, kitchen scraps (egg shells, fruit, and vegetable peelings), rice hulls, cotton burr compost (or any other compost), green cover crops, chopped leaf mold, bark, and sawdust (except walnut or cherry). All of these things should be generously added to all types of soil to keep up with the demands of vegetable gardening for proper tilth, microbial life, and nutrients, eliminating the need for harsh synthetic fertilizers.

These amendments can be added in by double digging for poor soils or gently incorporated with a hoe or other garden tool if your soil isn’t compacted. Moderate use of a tiller or tractor can be used, being careful not to overwork the soil and destroy the very tilth you are trying to build. Also work the soil when it is moist like a sponge, if it forms mud, frozen or is very dusty wait another day.

To preserve your hard work try to have designated walking areas and stay out of the root zone/planting area. Add a 2-6 inch mulch to suppress weeds, moderate soil temperature, retain moisture and prevent erosion. Watch for slugs and root rot on susceptible plants. Pull the mulch back around the base of plants if you start to notice any root rot or pest problems hiding in your mulch. Heavy rains will erode and compact bare soils as well. Many things work as mulch, my preferred combination is cardboard or black and white newspaper, well rotted manure, then straw or bark mulch on top. This slowly breaks down and adds to the soil.

With these practices put into place year-round you can have 10-18 inches of earthy, chocolate-colored, workable dirt in as little as one season without further damaging our earth or watersheds, and your bountiful garden will be your reward.


Garden soil with visible mycorrhizae strands and various organic matter.

On the subject of topsoil creation- “It takes these processes perhaps 500 years to make one inch of soil, but man with his destructive farming practices can destroy an inch in only a few years.” -Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine-

Organic Pesticides

In a perfect garden the balance of bad bugs to good bugs would be so you would never have to use any sort of pesticide. Although a balanced ecology is what we strive for in our garden, sometimes certain bugs tip the balance and become too numerous, seriously harming the yield of a plant. So we turn to organic pesticides which don’t harm us, and are sometimes species specific. Even though organic pesticides are safer for the environment and humans, use sparingly, because many are indiscriminate killers, and can upset the natural ecology and ratio of good bugs to bad bugs in your garden. All pesticides in this article are broad spectrum pesticides. You always want to test one leaf to make sure it doesn’t burn the plant, and be very careful with seedlings and wait until they have at least their second set of leaves.

1. Clove – 1 tblsp of ground clove spice to 1 gallon of hot water or for a weaker solution boil 15 whole cloves in a medium sauce pan. Cool and Use. Dilute can be used on seedlings.

2. Neem oil- 1 tblsp per 2 quarts of warm water. Do not use on seedlings!

3. Pyrethrum- buy at the store or place a bunch of Chrysanthemums/ and some other plants in the aster family in hot water and let it steep for 1-3 days. Strain and use. Always spray from far away, a thin mist works best. Be cautious with seedlings.

4. Diatomacous earth- Pat DE powder on tops and undersides of leaves, try not to get wet for a couple of days. Buy whole DE (Anuway Hydroponcs in Rogers, AR carries this product) and spread in planters and around the garden. Deters ants from making homes in your pots, improves drainage, modulates moisture level, provides soil with silica and other minerals. Can be used on seedlings.

5. Soap- Mix 1 tblsp into your standard household sprayer and shake. Many different liquid soaps work.  Soap can also improve the effectiveness of numbers 1-3 when mixed together.

There are some ways to fight particularly pesky bugs. Hand smashing bugs still remains the best pesticide and don’t be afraid to let some bugs alone, this way they have time to attract the appropriate predator.

Happy Gardening!

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