Merriam-Webster dictionary defines activism as a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue. Pretty straight-forward and after reading the definition of activism you must be asking yourself what does it have to do with gardening? How about everything!
By gardening you are choosing to speak up for your values, speak up for what you believe in and take a stand for how you want the world to be. As many people garden to grow their own food, provide their own food independence and resiliency, not be reliant on big companies dictating your food choices, grow flowers that provide habitats for bees, enjoy the literal fruits of your labor and take charge of your own destiny. Standing for your food independence and resiliency, not relying on others to tell you what you should be doing and take action to be in charge of your own destiny sure sounds a lot like activism.
When you garden you are telling people that I don’t want to allow others to tell me how my life should be, I don’t want pesticide, herbicide or fungicide- on my flowers and vegetables and you are choosing to support causes that you are aligned. Which is no different than fighting for a cause that you believe in and telling the big businesses that want things to stay the same that you are voting for others options with your dollars. On top of all of this, gardeners tend to support the local economy with more vigor and buy their tools, seeds and garden support structures from local businesses because doing so aligns with their values.
So whether you garden to teach your children where food comes from, if you garden because you love beautiful flowers and wildlife, if you garden to grow your own food, if you garden for fun or if you garden for any other reason you are being an activist. You are creating positive change in the world and you are telling the world what matters to you and how you want to live your life. And the world is happy to have you speaking your truth.
Raised bed gardeners beware, standard potting soil and/or soil that you get from a garden center is low in organic matter, has no bug life, has been sterilized and typically has the minimal amount of nutrients and minerals needed to provide enough life to support vegetables and flowers for one to two years. So you either need to purchase new soil one to two years to refill your garden beds with, which can be expensive over time, you can add chemical fertilizers which will damage your soil over time, or you can plant specific crops that fix nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and more in your soil. I highly recommend the third option and we’re going to explore how raised bed gardeners can enhance the life of standard potting soil and soil that you buy from garden centers without adding chemicals fertilizers to their soil.
Soil is alive, yet when you sterilize soil (this is a very common practice in bagged soil or soil that comes from a garden center) you kill all of the soil’s life. Potting soil typically has those white, rock-like substances in them and yes these white rock-like substances are fertilizer and these fertilizers pellets break down in a year or so which leaves the soil without anything to support plant growth. Garden center soil is sometimes amended with compost or other nutrient mixes and once again, compost and nutrient mixes only last for a short period of time before they get depleted and then you’re left with lifeless soil. So what is a raised bed gardener to do?
Plant peas, beans, clover, alfalfa, peanuts and other nitrogen-fixing crops. Nitrogen-fixing crops have bacteria that grow on their stems that can take the nitrogen that is in the air that cannot be used by plants or humans and convert it into a usable form to provide the soil with a steady supply of nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the key nutrients that vegetables need to grow and all soil can store nitrogen.
Cover cropping your soil at the end of the season and then laying the cover crops back over your soil will provide calcium, phosphorus, potassium and more to your soil. Common cover crops include hairy vetch, oats, field peas, buckwheat and rye. If you plant cover crops before winter, then kill them in the spring before they flower and finally lay the killed cover crop on top of your soil, they will break down over time and supply your soil with these key nutrients. One of the major factors in cover cropping is to plant your seeds underneath the cover crops so that they can directly receive nutrients while they are growing.
While cover crops are a fantastic panacea for lack of nutrients in the soil, not every cover crop works in every environment. So before purchasing a cover crop you will want to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and then research cover crops that grow well in your plant hardiness zone. Certain cover crops also support certain vegetable growth and you also need to make sure that the cover crops that you are going to purchase are beneficial to the vegetables and/or flowers that you want to grow.
Planting cover crops and nitrogen-fixing plants can make a huge difference in adding life to your soil and when it comes to adding life to your soil this is something that you have to do on a yearly basis. So make sure to plan out your cover crop seeds on a yearly basis and plant nitrogen-fixing plants on a yearly basis as well. Doing so will ensure that you can keep your soil healthy and strong for years to come and ensure your raised beds gardening success
Gardens can benefit tremendously from the organic no-till methodology
Organic no-till agriculture is the ultimate way, in my opinion, to restore the health of your soil. Organic no-till agriculture involves planting cover crops either in between or at the end of your season, killing the cover crop before it flowers by pulling the cover crop out of the soil from its root and laying the cover crop back over the soil. Then you plant seeds directly below the crop cover so that the cover crop provides instant nutrients and minerals to your seeds and you create a thick mat of mulch that can store and slowly release water to your seeds, reducing the amount of water and fertilizers usage in your garden.
Cover crops are brilliant tools to build up the health of your soil as they help turn unusable nitrogen in the air into nitrogen that your plants can use, they breakdown directly into your soil to contribute phosphorous, potassium, calcium and more directly back to the soil and research from the Rodale Institute, the leading organic no-till farm has shown that using the organic no-till system consistently increases yields in dozens upon dozens of crops. So why has this technique not made its way to gardeners.
I believe that part of the reason why organic no-till methodology has not made its way to gardeners is because gardens are small-scale and many people think that this methodology is used on large-scale farms. In all actuality, organic no-till principles work extremely well in small-scale gardens. We used this technique at Pure Love Organic Farms, in New York City, to quickly turn our contaminated, yellow-ish soil into fertile soil that was high in organic matter in less than 6 months.
Another reason why gardeners may not be aware of this methodology is because not many gardeners utilize techniques that restore the health of their soil at the end of the season. Adding compost is great in the spring and if you utilized cover crops at the end of the fall season you could set your soil up for tremendous success in the spring and the addition of compost in tandem with organic no-till agricultural principles would supercharge your soil and create yields like you have never seen before. This was one of our keys to growing over 300 tulips, over 50 hyacinths and dozens of daffodils, irises and crocuses every spring.
Organic no-til agriculture also provides a tremendous defense against weeds as many cover crops have allelopathic properties that naturally suppress weed growth. Add in the thick layer of green mulch that cover crops generate and the ability for cover crops to alter soil microbial communities to prevent weed growth and you have a killer solution for suppressing weed growth (https://articles.extension.org/pages/18524/how-cover-crops-suppress-weeds)
.Using organic no-till methodology is a big boon for your garden. This system of growing can be implemented quickly and start to show dividends for your garden in less than 6 months. If you are interested in utilizing organic no-till methodology in your garden, schedule a consultation with us so we can create a plan to bring the amazing benefits of organic no-till agriculture to your garden.
Michael Forman is an urban farmer who founded Pure Love Sustainability Inc. and teaches gardeners and farmers how to create optimal conditions for soil health. Michael loves teaching these techniques and principals to new gardeners and offers no-cost initial garden consultations that help gardeners create and maintain the gardens of their dreams. If you want to learn any of these techniques, need support in your garden and/or want to try your hand at gardening for the first-time, please fill out a contact form on his website
Three weeks ago I met with a client who said that they wanted to grow food in their yard for the first-time. During our consultation he said that they wanted to grow lemon trees in their backyard and I instantly told him that there was no way that he could grow lemon trees and expect them to produce lemons where he lives unless he was going to constantly bring the trees back and forth from his yard to his home. He understood this and then he asked me “Well why does the Home Depot here sell lemon trees?” My answer was “They’ll grow in a greenhouse here and lemon trees need the summer heat of Arizona or Southern California to grow”. I can understand the hope that that my client got from seeing a lemon tree at the Home Depot and it made me realize that people are not aware of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and how they affect what can and cannot grow in their climates.
I really thought that everyone knew about their USDA Plant Hardiness Zone or at the very least understood that only certain fruit, vegetables, flowers and bushes only grew in certain climates. Yet most people don’t and it’s not because they are ignorant or unaware, it’s because books, YouTube Videos and Pinterest posts exist that tell people that you can grow 250 pounds of produce on a quarter acre of land, that you can start a lasagna garden that will restore the health of your soil in no time and provide an abundance of organic veggies and posts that show that you can grow pineapples in cold climates if you follow this garden hack. Yet gardening for the most part is not magical and there are so many factors that go into your success including your experience level.
Are these things possible, yes? Does it take a solid amount of knowledge, skill, experience and problem-solving ability to make it happen? Yes, yes it does. New gardeners need to start small and learn the basics first and one of the key basic principles to know is your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Your plant hardiness zone is based on the climate that you live in and gives you a historically accurate view of when you can begin to plant where you live, when your growing season ends and what types of fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and bushes will grow well in your climate zone.
Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone will also help you to determine when you should start the different types of crops that you want to plant for the year and will save you a lot of guessing time. Armed with this knowledge, you can scientifically plan your garden for the year and avoid some of the challenges that have stopped you in the past.
Michael Forman is an urban farmer who founded Pure Love Sustainability Inc. and teaches gardeners and farmers how to create optimal conditions for soil health and help gardeners and farmers get maximum yields year in and year out. Michael loves teaching these techniques and principals to new gardeners and offers no-cost initial garden consultations that help gardeners create and maintain the gardens of their dreams. If you want to learn any of these techniques, need support in your garden and/or want to try your hand at gardening for the first-time, please fill out a contact form on his website
Soil is comprised of a mixture of bacteria, fungi, algae, minerals, nutrients, protozoa, nematodes, ants, worms, spiders and a host of other creatures and organisms that can be visible or invisible to the human eye. Actually I am going to edit a portion of that statement, the correct statement is healthy soil is comprised of a mixture of algae, minerals, nutrients, protozoa, nematodes, ants, worms, spiders and a host of other creatures and organisms that can be visible or invisible to the human eye. It is the health of our soil that produces the results that you get in your garden. Yet, so many of the methods that we have been told to use to grow strong healthy plants actually destroy the life in your soil.
It is the naturally occurring life in soil that makes soil healthy. I know that we hate seeing bugs in our soil and some bugs are actually beneficial for our soil, our vegetables, our flowers, our fruit trees and berry bushes. In fact in most cases an outbreak of bugs that are eating the vegetables, fruit and/or flowers in your garden is caused by a lack of bug life in your soil as certain bugs like spiders, ladybugs, caterpillars, praying mantises and beetles feast on the insects that eat your crops (https://www.planetnatural.com/pest-problem-solver/beneficial-insects/).
Yet chemical pesticides are designed to kill all bug life and bug life can and will eventually become resistant to consistent pesticide use which can lead to your garden having an abundance of aphids, Colorado potato beetles, slugs, earwigs and cutworms because of a lack of predatory bugs that control their populations as a result of spraying pesticides. I know that it may be hard not to spray pesticides and nature takes care of itself when you give it the right conditions. Certain bugs like worms are actually gardeners best friends (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/soils/biology/earthworms) as worms increase nutrient availability in your soil, improve soil drainage, improve soil structure and their castings are a natural fertilizer that is rich in all of the things that your soil needs to grow beautiful flowers, vegetables, fruit and more.
Chemical fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro are one of the many things that we have been told to use to enhance the growth of our flowers and vegetables and while Miracle-Gro gets the job done, it also has such high nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous levels that it burns your soil and over time will kill most forms of life. So much so that in a few years you have to not only continue to use Miracle-Gro on your flowers and vegetables, but in fact you have to use more Miracle-Gro than you did a few years ago because the soil is dead. I have had a handful of people reach out to me panicking because their gardens don’t look right and nothing is growing and one of the first questions that I ask them is what fertilizers have you used. The reason that I ask is this because consistent use of chemical fertilizers, which by the way are also petroleum (gasoline) based, will eventually strip the life from your soil. When bacterial, fungal and bug life are stripped from your soil it will become as infertile and you may start to see massive weeds take over your garden. Chemical fertilizers also completely unnecessary if you are using compost or techniques such as organic no-till agriculture to restore the health of your soil (More on organic no-till agriculture to come later).
Fungicides are also big problem for soil life. Yes nobody wants fungal outbreaks in their soil or on their plants and by spraying fungicides in your soil you are killing the natural balance of fungus that exists in all healthy soil. Once there is no fungal matter left in the soil, bacterial colonies have no competition and your soil becomes so bacterial or alkaline that not many things can grow in it. Here’s the thing though, fungal outbreaks in your soil and on your plants are typically caused by low nutrient and bacterial levels in your soil. So by spraying fungicides in your soil, you are only creating conditions that can cause more fungal outbreaks. I know it sounds counterintuitive and fungicides kill life in the soil which can cause a host of other issues to pop up.
Bacterial life, bug, life, fungal life and soil organism life are kin to our immune system. They all protect the soil from being diseased, they protect the soil from being ravaged by harmful bacteria or predators and they keep the soil strong and alive for years to come. There are also many ways to increase the health of your soil, just like there are many ways to boost our immune system and there are a number of ways to naturally increase the health of your soil.
Compost is easily made from a proper mixture of browns (high carbon materials such as dead plant material, paper, newspaper, dead leaves, etc.) and greens (high nitrogen materials such as grass clippings, hay, food scraps, green leaves and more). An active compost pile produces high heat which can kill weed seeds and the warm, wet, food-rich, plant debris-rich environment of compost piles attract beneficial bugs like spiders, worms, ladybugs and more who help to break the food scraps and plant material down. Once compost is finished, you will have a nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium rich soil amendment that you can add directly onto or dig into your soil. The bug life that was living in your compost pile will also return to the soil and control the populations of bugs that eat your vegetables, flowers and fruit.
2. Opening air pockets in your soil
Soil can easily become diseased if it does not receive air. Fungus loves to live in tightly packed areas that receive little to no oxygen. When your soil is too tightly compacted it can become a breeding ground for fungal colonies which can turn your soil from bacterial (pH levels above 7.0) to fungal (pH levels below 7.0). Fungal soil is conducive to growing trees, flowers, a small array of vegetables and some berry bushes and it will not support vegetable growth over time. So opening air pockets in your soil will help your soil to breathe and will create the space for bacterial life to come back to your soil, creating balance of bacterial and fungal life in your soil.
3. Nitrogen-fixing crops
Vegetables, flowers, trees, bushes and wood chips all deplete nitrogen from the soil. Wood chips are a great way to suppress weeds and they siphon nitrogen from your soil as they are breaking down. Every time that something grows, nitrogen gets depleted from the soil and as mentioned before you do not want to put high levels of nitrogen in your soil or else it could burn the soil, so what should you do to restore nitrogen levels in your soil?
Plant nitrogen-fixing crops. There are a handful of crops (peas, legumes and beans) that attract bacteria to the their roots that can take the nitrogen that exists in the area and turn it into a useable form for itself, the soil and the plant around it. So by planting nitrogen-fixing crops you are naturally restoring the nitrogen levels in your soil. One thing to note is that most flowers and trees do not grow well in soil that has high levels of nitrogen, so it is advised that you plant only one to two nitrogen-fixing plants in areas where you grow flowers or trees.
4. Proper crop rotations
Crop rotations are key. Vegetables and flowers all pull nutrients from the soil to aid in their growth. So if we continue to plant the same things in the same spot year in and year out, the soil will become bereft of nutrients over time and will never get the chance to restore its nutrient stores. This is what happened in the Dust Bowl, the same crops got planted in the same spot every year until the soil was stripped of all of its nutrients and the soil lost its structure and became completely infertile. Properly rotating your crops will help restore the soil nutrient balance as different vegetables and flowers use different nutrients and can also enhance the structure of your soil.
5. Organic no-till agriculture
This is my preferred methodology and it is one of the keys to unleashing the power of your soil. There are certain crops called cover crops that are not intended to be consumed or used. Cover crops are high in nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and other key plant nutrients and they get planted either as a rotational crop or a few weeks before your garden’s growing window is about to end. When planting a cover crop the goal is to let it grow to its fullest, cut off the first flower that the cover crop produces and then pull the cover crop out of the soil from its roots. Killing the cover crop before it flowers is key as cover crops are extremely hardy and reproduce easily and if you let too many of them go to seed you will have a new crop of cover crops growing instead of the seeds that you actually want to grow. Once you pull the cover crop from its roots, you will lay it back over the soil to create a thick mulch of plant-life that will breakdown into the soil and contribute all of the nutrients that are held within the cover crops directly to the soil, hence creating a green manure that restores the life to your soil.
You then plant directly into the soil that you laid the dead cover crop on top of and your seeds will naturally receive the nutrients that they need. Cover cropping is a brilliant system and research has consistently shown that vegetables grow larger and produce more in areas that use the organic no-till methodology.
Maintaining the life in your soil is a top priority for gardeners and farmers alike. When your soil is rich in naturally rich in nutrients, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, iron, bacterial life, fungal life and bug life, your plants will continue to be strong year in and year out and you will have fewer issues in your garden or on your farm.
Michael Forman is an urban farmer who founded Pure Love Sustainability Inc. and teaches gardeners and farmers how to create optimal conditions for soil health and utilize all of the above techniques to help gardeners and farmers get maximum yields year in and year out. Michael loves teaching these techniques and principals to new gardeners and offers no-cost initial garden consultations that help gardeners create and maintain the gardens of their dreams. If you want to learn any of these techniques, need support in your garden and/or want to try your hand at gardening for the first-time, please fill out a contact form on his website
Gardening seems magical and it both is and is not magical. Yes it is magical when you plant a small vegetable or flower seed and it grows into a productive plant or flower and it is not magical as gardening also has a lot to do with the health of your soil, the type of soil that you are working with, the ability of the seed that you are planting to grow in the area that you live in and the plant hardiness zone that you live in. In fact gardening is more scientific than it is magical.
I own a garden and farm design and planning business and I work with homeowners and farmers to help them build the gardens and farms of their dreams and also to teach homeowners to plant seeds, maintain their crops and enrich their soil as my goal is for my clients to need me for 1 year and then have the tools that they need to grow their own food, flowers, fruit and shrubs. I ventured into the world of gardening and farming in a very interesting way though – I had a crazy vision to start an organic farm in NYC and ended up turning an illegal garbage dump site in my neighborhood in the Bronx into an organic flower farm with the help of a few friends.
When I found the space that became our farm its soil was yellow-ish, there wasn’t a blade of grass nor a weed growing and we didn’t see a single bug of any sort. All of which are really strong signs that your soil is dead and even though I knew nothing about this, I knew that we needed to restore the soil. So I started digging with my hand and within minutes of digging I was pulling garbage out of the soil. I kept on coming back and kept on sharing my vision with others and soon we had a team of people who were working with us. We removed over 500 pounds of asphalt, concrete, bricks, car parts, large oil drums, carpets and more from the soil within our first three months there. While we were doing this work a friend suggested that we build a compost pile and I read a book and we did it.
A few months later we spread our compost, organic alfalfa meal that we bought (to restore the nitrogen levels in the soil) and an organic bacterial solution that we bought (to add bacterial life to our soil) on the soil and within a few weeks of taking these actions we had normal looking soil. So we decided to plant about 60 seeds and many fo them grew and while this seemed magical to us, it actually wasn’t. Our soil was healthy, was rich in nitrogen, had plenty of organic matter in it, was teeming with worms, ants, spiders, beetles, roly-poly bugs and more and had strong bacterial and fungal life, which are all the key markers of soil health. This is why our seeds grew and became productive pepper plants, lemon balm, bok choy, cilantro, nasturtiums and marigolds. If we would have planted in the dead soil that we inherited, it is highly unlikely that any of these 60 seeds would have grown.
During the process of restoring the health of the soil at the piece of land that we were working on (We called the space “The Land” for a while because we did not know if we could ever turn it into a farm) we learned a lot and we learned that vegetables only grow in bacterial soil and flowers, bushes, shrubs and trees grow in somewhat acidic to highly acidic soil. The Land that we were restoring had 80% of its space covered by trees and while we were digging up the soil and removing the garbage that was in the soil we found sheets of fungus and these factors told us that our soil was acidic which would not bode well for vegetable growth.
So we went about finding solutions to this challenge and this is where our finished compost, organic alfalfa meal and organic bacterial solution came into play. Finished compost that has an equal proportion of greens to browns (greens include all food scraps, green leaves, grass clippings, hay and any fresh plant material that is still green. Browns include brown leaves, twigs, branches, paper products, straw and soil) helps to make your soil bacterial as well as nitrogen-rich as flowers, trees, shrubs and berry bushes do not need much nitrogen to grow and in order to grow vegetables your soil needs to have nitrogen in it. All of these amendments changed the soil type from fungal to bacterial and our bacterial soil provided the proper conditions for vegetables to grow.
We also learned that we needed to find seeds that were adapted to growing in New York City and we found out that something called a plant hardiness zone exists. Plant hardiness zones allow farmers and gardeners to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in their region of the country https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/. We learned that seeds that were grown in our plant hardiness zone (7a) and seeds that were adapted to the winter and summer conditions that NYC experienced would do best in our soil.
So we searched for a seed producer that was either in zone 7a or in zone 6b (seeds that are produced in close by zones typically work well in your plant hardiness zone) and we came across High Mowing Seeds, a USDA Certified Organic seed producing company and bought seeds from them. We also learned that great seed producers will clearly tell you which seeds are easy to grow, which seeds require open pollination (either a pollinator such as a bee, bug or bird needs to pollinate the seed or you need to pollinate the seed yourself in order for it to grow) and which seeds were difficult to grow and needed care that was far beyond our knowledge and we decided to order only easy to grow seeds as we needed to learn how to produce vegetables. We found a number of other great USDA Certified Organic seed producing companies along the way and none of them were in our Plant Hardiness Zone and we learned that seeds won’t grow well in your region if they are not adapted to your climate no matter how great the seeds that you bought are.
Our scientific pursuit of restoring the health of the soil, learning about our Plant Hardiness Zone and choosing seeds that were adapted to our Plant Hardiness Zone is what brought us success in our first year. Our success was magical as neither myself nor the Co-Founder of our farm had ever planted a seed or taken care of a houseplant and with the right scientific processes we grew things. We did have the support of 3 fantastic friends who brought key knowledge to us and we turned “The Land” into an organic flower farm in year two and we grew over 400 organic tulips, more than 50 organic hyacinths, 50 organic daffodils, 50 organic irises, about 50 organic crocuses, 10 organic lilies and dozens of organic nasturtium flowers for three straight years at our organic, sustainable flower farm. Then we we all decided that we accomplished our mission and we all ended up moving on to further our own organic, sustainable agricultural missions in the world.
Having the right scientific processes made all of the difference in our success and this is what I want to leave all new and even experienced gardeners with. When you are working with someone who knows how to build the health of your soil, who knows which seeds will grow in your Plant Hardiness Zone, who knows what seeds are adapted to your region and how to identify the type of soil that is in your garden of farm they can help you succeed for as many years as you want to have a garden for.
Michael Forman is the founder of Pure Love Sustainability Inc and his mission is to restore the well-being of people, society and the planet. Michael offers no-cost consultations to gardeners and farmers alike and can help you to create the garden or farm of your dreams. If you are interested in scheduling a consultation please click here
Many first-time gardeners get so excited about the potential to grow all of their own food and create ambitious plans to do so. I love the excitement and am all for people growing there own food and gardening is not always a magical process where you plant a seed and a vegetable or flower grows. There are many factors that lead to a seed growing into a productive plant and first-time gardeners need to learn how to create the conditions for 5 healthy onions to grow before they attempt to grow 50 healthy onions.
Starting with ambitious garden goals gives you direction, clear actions to take and excitement to getting your harden up and running and having a huge garden goal when you have never had a garden before is like applying to CEO jobs when you’re fresh out of college and have never worked a full-time job before. Yes you can eventually be a CEO and there are you a lot to things to learn before you can become the CEO of a company. It’s the same thing with gardening – before you can grow 50 healthy peppers you need to learn how to grow 5 healthy peppers consistently because there are a lot of factors that go into growing food.
One of the most important factors that goes into growing food is healthy soil. I am all for growing your own food in your yard and supplying 100% of your food needs from your gardens. In fact I believe that growing food is the way to build resilient, sustainable communities and cities and successful gardening comes down to more than just planting a handful of seeds and seeing if things grow. Successful gardening comes from healthy soil and healthy soil is created over time.
There are so many gardening books that can teach you how to plan a garden that will allow you to grow 250 pounds of vegetables per year on a quarter-acre of land and feed your family and your community. Yes this can be accomplished and the key to accomplishing this is experience as no matter how great the plan that the book has given you is, your potato crops may get overrun with Colorado potato beetles that will kill your potato plants before you even get a chance to harvest them or some other issue that you did not know how to deal with can cause a huge mold buildup in your garden and completely halt production.
Garden issues or challenges can be brought on by a number of factors and they typically happen because the bacterial and fungal life in your soil has been depleted due to use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, choosing not to rotate your crops and not restoring the health of your soil over the course of a few seasons. Yet this great book that you bought that gives you the formula to grow 500 pounds of produce on a quarter-acre did not tell you any of these things.
It’s not the fault of the author and growing food is more complex than just planting seeds and having things grow. Yes it is magical when peppers, tomatoes and cilantro start growing in your yard and growing food is also not magical, in fact it is scientific in nature. The science of growing food comes down to the health of your soil as there are millions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, microbes, organic matter and more organisms in just a few ounces of soil. Bug life such as worms, spiders, ants, mites, lady bugs and other insects are also key markers of soil health. It is the organisms in your soil that gives your soil life and we must replenish the life in the soil in order for our soil to continue to have life and continue to grow food.
When you think of soil think of it like you would think about your body. Iron is a key mineral that your body relies on for a variety of functions including producing red blood cells. Iron is also one of the key components that help you produce new red blood cells. Your body naturally has built up stores of iron and you can survive for a while solely on the iron that your body has stored and if you do not replenish the iron in your body over time your iron stores will get low and your body will not be able to produce red blood cells at the frequency that it needs to. Red blood cells carry nutrients, vitamins and minerals as well as oxygen to your cells and if you are not producing enough red blood cells due to having depleted our iron stores you will experience fatigue, lethargy and an inability to produce the amount of energy that you are used to producing.
Soil works the exact same way. If you have moved to a new home where nothing but grass has grown in the backyard for the last 20 years then there should be decently strong mineral and nutrient stores in your soil. So yes if you remove the grass from your yard and start planting vegetables the vegetables should grow for the most part (certain vegetables need to be pollinated by bees, bugs, birds or other creatures to grow and some vegetables need really specific pH levels and nutrient levels to grow) and you may end up with some tomatoes at the end of the year, which is fantastic! You may be able to plant tomatoes for a few more years and get the same yield and eventually the soil will become deficient in the minerals and nutrients that are needed to grow tomatoes and your yields will decline. This is very common in gardens and then people turn to chemical fertilizers to get your vegetables to grow, chemical fertilizers are so harsh that they also kill soil life and eventually over time your soil will become infertile because you did not replenish the vitamins and minerals that your soil needs in order to sustain life.
So the first thing that a gardener needs to learn is how to restore the health of their soil and this is why you need an experienced professional who knows how to do this. I am your experienced professional, my strength is in restoring the heath of the soil and constantly providing the soil with what it needs to be able to thrive. I have taken dead soil and turned it into productive soil in just a few months. I know how to create proper crop rotations to ward off Colorado potato beetles, aphids, mites and other creatures that will come and significantly impact your yields for the season and I can get you to the place where you can be a master in restoring the health of your soil and grow all of the onions that you want to grow, grow all of the peppers that you want to grow and grow all of the tomatoes that you want to grow for as long as you want to grow them.
If you want to master your soil and ultimately create the garden of your dreams then please schedule an initial consultation with me where we can discuss what the garden of your dreams looks like and supply you with the education that you need to make it happen. Click here to schedule a consultation now!
It takes nerve, verve and big dreams to make a difference in the world and without it I don’t think I could have kept on going and kept on pursuing my dreams.
I’m going to riff here. A lot of people probably think I’m crazy. I have a big vision and want to make a huge difference in the world, so it comes with the territory and as I continue to pursue my big goals I realize that it takes a certain amount of passionate fervor and willingness to go past where you would have stopped before to make your vision into reality. Turning my big vision into reality though has not been easy. One of the biggest challenges that I have faced in making my big vision into reality is dealing with self-doubt, overcoming past failures and seeing myself as the leader that I have seen glimpses of since I was 10 years old.
My big vision became clear to me in 2014, after the first season at Pure Love Organic Farms and formed from a wild idea. In early 2013, my best friend and I were coming home from a night in Manhattan and we were talking about a friend that we had both known for over 15 years and we were very worried about his health and in particular his chance to have a heart attack in the next few years as he worked crazy hours, ate poorly, became quite overweight, drank like crazy and embodied the work hard party harder lifestyle that comes with attending and graduating from an Ivy League School. My friend and I had just become vegan and we were starting to make a difference in the health of the people around us – I as a health coach that was trained by a Medical Doctor and he as an influential person who people frequently came to for advice about all areas of life including health.
Even though we were making a big difference in the health of the people around us, we realized though that we had not made the slightest impact with our friend and couldn’t even begin conversation with him about his health. We were able to identify our challenge – he and his group of friends make big money and care about what thy have (a $5,000 a month apartment in NYC, a fancy BMW, a Director position at a Wealth Management Company, etc.) and we realized that while my best friend and I were both successful, we also did not have anything to show this group that we had put all of our hard work and effort into. So I started to think about what we could do that made a difference in the world and showed this group that we do something amazing and have something that we were extremely proud of.
2 minutes later, I turn to my friend and say, “I have a crazy idea and hear me out. Let’s start a farm!” and off we went. Two NYC kids who had never planted a seed before nor taken care of a plant were going to start a farm. Yeah, right?
Actually yeah that is right! 3 months after this conversation I found a piece of well-worn land in the neighborhood that I lived in and just started digging with my bare hands. Within minutes of digging, I ran into garbage and I kept on coming back and kept on bringing my friend who I was going to start the farm with. We dug with our hands and started to realize that the soil was in terrible shape and was a yellowish color and we kept on coming back. We started to run into asphalt and concrete that were buried int he soil and we talked with other friends about our desire to build a farm and two of our childhood friends joined the team.
We ended up removing 600+ pound of asphalt, concrete, bricks, car parts, oil cans, carpets and more from the soil and through the recommendation of another friend we built a compost pile and generated compost that we laid back over the soil. Within six months of working not he farm in our spare-time, we restored the health of the soil to normal looking soil and we decided to plant a few seeds to see if anything grew.
Things grew, it was miraculous!!! We had pepper plants, calendula flowers, nasturtiums, lemon balm, cilantro and a few other vegetables growing. It was mind-boggling that a bunch of city-kids could do this and we went into 2014 with a plan to make this into a farm.
During the winter of 2013 I read an letter to the editor in Organic Gardening magazine from a young woman who had just graduated some sort of agricultural training program and in the letter she talked about how she and her cohort of classmates wanted to start their own farms, but had to get other jobs so that they could hope to eventually save enough money to buy land. This shocked me, I had no idea that land was so expensive and saw a massive, massive problem that needed to be solved – land availability for young farmers. I quickly came to realize through some research that the average age of a farmer in the U.S. is about 60 years old and as they age out there won’t be young farmers who can afford to buy their land which means that food production in the U.S. would be ruled by the companies that could buy land (Monsanto, Dole, BASF, etc.) and these companies truly could care less about the health of the people that they are growing food for.
I knew I had to do something about this and my original mission got started – To create 1,000,000 acres or new, organic, sustainable produce farmland that young farmers could rent from my future company at prices that were more affordable than buying land. I was inspired and wanted to make this happen. So I started looking at states in the country were land was affordable and ended up taking a positively fateful trip to Boise, ID in August 2015. I fell in love with Boise and made my mind up that this is where I wanted to start my business. Fast-forward to January 2018 and my fiancee and I (we hadn’t even met when I visited Boise for the first-time) moved to Boise .
Along the way my vision has changed, I am still committed to farmers and in a different way as I realized that reversing climate change is where my true passion lies and I am also using my skills in restoring the health of the soil and creating farms to create community gardens, build gardens for homeowners and teach homeowners how to grow their own food. I am also using my skill in being able to restore the health of the soil and train the soil to pull carbon from the air and store it to build healthy soils – all of which will make a difference in reversing climate change and creating new farmers.
So yes my vision has changed and I am still in the game and starting a business has been scary. I wavered back and forth because I was not sure if I could do it and in November 2018, I finally decided to start Pure Love Sustainability Inc.
Starting my business has been very challenging, I have dealt with so much fear, doubt and negative thoughts about being able to do this (start a business). I honestly thought that people who immediately flock to my big vision and money would come flowing in like water. Well that didn’t happen. Instead I have had to work very hard to find people who care about mi vision and want what I am offering. I have had to use a lot of mental power to become flexible and find out what others want, I have had to put myself out there like I never have before and I have made some mistakes that have kicked me in the butt.
I have had great weeks where I believed that I could make this happen and terrible weeks where I was ready to quit and barley took any action. What I have learned is having the right support system is key. I hired a coach who has helped me to work through so many of my fears and get into action. I have hired a marketing expert to help me tailor my messaging and be able to communicate the services that I offer with people in a clear, effective way and I am starting to see some results four months later. In all truth of the matter it would have been easier to quit, but I also would have been giving up on what matters most to me and that is not worth it.
I don’t think that I would have stuck with my business if I didn’t have the passion, verve, courage and nerve to stick with it and having a vision that I want to accomplish so badly and having something that I want to contribute to the world so badly has made me unwilling to quit. I still don’t have it all figured out and am not yet making thousands of dollars a month and I know that I am on the right track.
If you have a big vision, go for it and start pursuing it. The world needs you and there are fantastic people out there who can help you stay on course and let go of your disempowering conversations that are stopping you. Big dreams, big goals and a big vision make a huge difference.
Where would the world be if Thomas Edison never had the vision of creating a lightbulb, where would the world be if Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone, where would the world be if Elon Musk gave up on Tesla because it was too hard. Have your big vision and keep on referencing it when times get tough. All big visions are crazy anyway and it’s ok to be crazy and have a big vision.
I started experimenting with intermittent fasting 3 weeks ago after a conversation with my friend Will Ruggles who is a health coach, experienced intermittent faster and has guided many people from all walks of life to success with intermittent fasting. Fasting is definitely something that has intrigued me as it is a spiritual and religious practice that has been in existence for thousands of years and I think it’s an interesting concept. The reason that I wanted to try intermittent fasting was to balance my hormones and get normal sleep as I have been struggling with waking up in the middle of the night since moving to Boise, ID in January 2018.
Intermittent fasting itself triggers your body to burn fat as a fuel source. Fat burns over a long time, in slow intervals, which helps you avoid the spikes and dips of energy that come from using carbohydrates, sugar or caffeine as your main fuel sources. Fat is also easily burned by the body and one of the premises of intermittent fasting is to train your body to burn fat as your main fuel source. Teaching your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates also balances your hormonal systems by putting less stress on them.
I really thought that intermittent fasting would be extremely challenging for me. I am 6’2″, my body fat percentage is most likely below than 12%, I have a fast metabolism, am quite active and burn through carbohydrates and calories like nothing and I had a lot of concerns about being hungry, not getting enough calories and slipping back into old bad habits where I wouldn’t eat enough and start losing weight. These concerns stopped me from giving intermittent fasting a shot and I was able to work through them by being supported by Will.
Since starting intermittent fasting three weeks ago, I have seen my sleep patterns improve (I am fasting one day a week). I am able to go back sleep quite easily now when I wake up in the middle of the night and I am no longer waking up in the middle of the night every night. I am also able to deal with stress with greater ease after I have finished fasting and I have not experienced any of my concerns about intermittent fasting since I began.
I want to share some of the steps that I have taken to ensure success with intermittent fasting as I truly believe that fasting one day a week (which really means skipping one meal on the day that you fast and delaying the normal time that you eat the next day by a few hours) can be beneficial for everyone.
So far I have skipped breakfast twice and skipped dinner once. Breakfast is an easier meal for me to skip as I used to be a distance runner in college who ran 7 days a week and would always go out early morning runs before I had breakfast, so I knew that I could skip breakfast easily.
During my second fast I experimented with skipping dinner and this was more challenging mentally than skipping breakfast as got home that night around 7 PM and my fiancee was out with a friend so I didn’t know what to do with my evening. My normal evening routine involves coming home around 6:30 PM, spending about 30 minutes to prepare dinner and then spending another 30 minutes eating dinner with my fiancee. Once we are finished eating we spend most of the evening with each other. No aspects of my normal evening routine were available that night and it felt weird, but I also avoided the urge to go back to the familiar routine of cooking and eating dinner that night by I deciding to take an early bath, read and go to bed at 9:30 PM.
My third fast was for 15 hours only because I forgot that I hadn’t fasted this week and had client meeting on the afternoon of the day that I broke my fast that I did not want to be hungry in.
I have definitely felt my stomach grumble at least once during each fast and a light grumbling isn’t a big deal. Will suggested that I drink water with a 1/2 teaspoon of himalayan pink sea salt if I feel really hungry during a fast as he told me that during a fast your body is craving nutrients more than it is craving food. I have yet to need to do this and I do believe that this will make a difference if I ever needed to do so. Another thing that provides me peace when I am intermittent fasting is that Will said that the best thing about intermittent fasting is that if you are still hungry an hour after consuming water with himalayan pink sea salt then feel free to eat as you are not bound to fasting for a certain period of time.
After my first 3 weeks of fasting, I truly believe that proper planning and having someone to support and guide you through the process are key. There are some great intermittent fasting coaches out there who can guide you to both try and succeed with intermittent fasting and the health results of intermittent fasting are being proven to be substantial. If you would like to try intermittent fasting and need support with it, reach out and I will point you to someone who can support you throughout the process.
How I realized that healing my physical injuries was only a part of the puzzle.
You may not know it and I am health coach – a really freaking brilliant health coach in fact. I was trained by a Medical Doctor in how to prevent and reverse diseases through a whole foods, plant-based (vegan minus processed foods) diet. I have worked with clients who had major organ failure that limited them to being able to do nothing more than spend all day in bed, clients who had autoimmune diseases that prevented them from working, exercising and enjoying their favorite leisure-time activities and clients who had disease that the Centers for Disease Control said could not be reversed and worked with each and every one of these clients as well as many other clients to help them reverse their disease or health issue and fully get back to the activities that they love.
I don’t mention that I am a health coach because I have mostly worked with clients on a referral basis and have been working another job throughout all of my years as a health coach. In my other jobs, I have strived so hard to be successful and strived so hard to make something of myself because it’s what I thought you needed to do and what I have been told to do.
You hear all of the success stories – people who worked harder than anyone before them, were more committed, had greater leadership skills and never stopped in the pursuit of accomplishing their goals. This pretty much sums up the American dream. Work hard and you will succeed, be completely open, pliable and adjustable, become whoever you need to become to succeed, be highly efficient, do whatever it takes, find a way, don’t say no to a customer or client – these are the messages of many of the most successful people in the world preach as the keys to their success and I have tried them all and while I have had some big successes in my career and while I have some impressive accomplishments to show for it I also destroyed myself in the process.
3 years ago I was working in a dream job and had worked so hard to get there. I pushed myself every single day at the job prior to getting my dream job and I had a lot of success. Yet my non-stop pushing in my prior job also lead to me going into work everyday for well over a year with a torn labrum in my right shoulder. I kept on going in and kept on pushing myself because I wanted to be a good employee and wanted to prove how committed I was and show the world that nothing would stop me from accomplishing what I want.
I have been operating like this since I was in high school. I grew up in New York City (The Bronx to be accurate, which by the way the Bronx is in New York City). New York City has some very specialized high schools that offer a fantastic education and being bright and having good grades lends your parents to push you to take the specialized high schools test because if you get into one of these specialized schools you’ll get a great education, it will look really good on your college applications and your chances of succeeding in life are supposedly higher. So I took the specialized school exam and didn’t make either of the top 2 specialized schools and the one that I made was really far from home and it made no sense to go there.
So I was pushed to take the Catholic High School test because this way I could also get into a great school and be setup for success. I ended up getting into the second best Catholic High School in NYC and off I went…to Catholic School. It was weird, I wasn’t Catholic, I had never been to a religious school let alone church or any place of religious worship for that matter and I didn’t fit in right off the bat.
One area where I thought I could fit in though was in sports and when I didn’t make the soccer team my freshmen year of high school I felt completely lost. I didn’t know what to do to fit in so I decided to run track even though I knew that I wasn’t particularly fast and for most of my freshmen and sophomore years on the track team that was the case. Something changed during my outdoor track season during my sophomore year and I improved a decent amount, although I still was not that good. What may have changed was that I was sick of being a loser, sick of not being good enough, sick of being a failure.
In my pursuit to stop being a loser, I decided to run a few days a week during the summer leading up to the upcoming Cross Country season. I luckily lived close to our home Cross Country course and was running the toughest part of our Cross Country race repeatedly multiple times a week and my times came down quickly on this part of the course. Before official Cross Country practice even started I knew that I had a chance to be good in the upcoming season. We came back to early season practice and I was immediately running with the Varsity and finishing minutes ahead of people who had beaten me by minutes just a year ago. It was invigorating, I finally felt good about myself for the first time in High School and people started to pay attention to me. I had a really good Cross Country season and I decided that I would never feel like a failure again and this decision parlayed itself right in my career.
When I got my first job, I worked so hard and bragged so hard to prove how great I was to prove to myself and others that I was not the failure that I had been earlier in my life. I had a lot of success and I pushed myself to the brink to make it happen. My body started to break down though from the incessant pushing and at the age of 26 I developed adrenal fatigue. Thankfully with the support of an amazing health coach I was able to eliminate my adrenal fatigue and went right back to pushing myself.
After the adrenal fatigue I learned how to deal with the side effects that came with pushing myself so hard, which sounds great, but trust me when I say it is not. So I kept on forging ahead and 2 years later I set out to prove to people that I was a great employee and that I would stick a with something no matter what as I had not always stuck with my jobs prior to this. After I decided that I was going to stick with my job no matter what I knew that nothing was going to stop me, but instead of succeeding off of the bat, I actually struggled mightily. I felt like a failure and decided to kick it into high gear because I could not be failure, so I worked harder and harder. I became whomever I needed to be to succeed. I was open and pliable and adjustable and always said yes and practiced everything that the successful people of the world said that you needed to practice to succeed and i turned it around quickly.
My incessant pushing seemed like it worked (it really did not) and I kept on pushing. Then I tore the labrum in my right shoulder. I was in pain almost everyday at work and yet I couldn’t stop pushing myself as I had to show to people that I wouldn’t quit no matter what happened. I took two days off after the injury and jumped back in as if nothing ever happened and I figured out how to deal with the pain and how to calm it down in a matter of hours and everything was fine.
Then the day came – I was at work and my right forearm turned completely purple, the slightest touch to my forearm caused excruciating pain, my hand was numb and I knew something was wrong. So I stopped doing what I was doing, walked over to my Manager, showed her my forearm and said “I need to leave now”. She saw my arm and said “yes, go”.
At first I went to a medical clinic, hoping that they could diagnose the issue and get it to calm down so I could go back to work the next day. The person at the clinic told me to go to the Hospital and I walked right into the Beth-Israel Medical Center, filled out some paperwork and sat waiting. I expected to be waiting for a while because I heard that you normally wait a while to be seen when you go to a Hospital. Yet I was seen in less than 90 minutes and knew that something serious was happening.
Numerous tests were run, i saw a number of nurses and doctors and I was told that I might have a blood clot in my arm. I was so scared and felt so alone. Thankfully the final Doctor that I saw said that I did not have a blood clot and we were able to get my symptoms down. He told me to go see an Orthopedic Doctor soon. I saw an Orthopedic Doctor about10 days later and was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome where a nerve underneath my shoulder was entrapped by my collarbone (which I had broken less than a year prior to tearing my labrum) and was causing blood flow to be restricted to my right arm. This is also a permanent injury, unless I had a very scary surgery which only had a 70% success rate and the 30% of patients for whom the surgery failed were actually worse off after the failed surgery. I was 29 years old at the time and was sent to physical therapy to see if we could ward off surgery and thankfully physical therapy worked and I have never had another symptom of this injury since wrapping up physical therapy.
Yet I didn’t learn the lesson. In fact, not only did I not learn the lesson to stop pushing myself, I actually pushed myself further when I got my dream job. I was the U.S. Account Manager for a startup company where myself and 2 co-workers were literally launching the U.S. operation. The job was challenging and I had clients all over the U.S., I traveled a lot and dealt with a lot of stress. The stress sometimes caused me to wake up in the middle of the night terrified about client issues and yet I still pushed through it. I kind of felt unstoppable in the role and was pushing myself in all areas of my life. In fact I was working 6 days a week in that job and eventually took on an outside consulting client on my day off. I was making money, making a difference and living a good life. Then during a business trip to Miami, I took a very high-level yoga class that I had wanted to take for over a year. I pushed myself, par the usual, and during the class I fell from an upside down yoga posture and fractured a rib.
I came back from the business trip and despite knowing that I fractured a rib, I did not take a single day off as I told myself that I was too valuable to the company that I was working for and had too many clients that needed me. Some days I would wake up and my ribs were in so much pain that they literally felt like they were on fire and could barely get out of bed and I would always be able to calm the pain down and head right to work. After four months of pushing through, something gave and when I say gave, I mean trouble.
I was at a restaurant client in Manhattan when it happened and was in their kitchen doing my job. I reached forward to grab my notebook and after grabbing my notebook I felt the worst pain that I had ever felt in my life in my back. It felt like my spine had collapsed and I screamed loudly in their kitchen. Everyone working in the kitchen stopped what they were doing and rushed over to me and everyone asked if I was ok. All I could say was “I don’t know and could you get me a chair and a bag of ice”.
After icing my back I knew that I needed to go home and take care of myself and I called my boss and the other person whom i worked side by side with and told them that I hurt my back and needed to go home. I had never done this before and I had to.
Two weeks later I saw my Sports Medicine Doctor. The diagnosis was spondylolisthesis – a vertebrae in my back was pushed forward. Permanent injury number 2. I was devastated. The Physician’s Assistant came in I wrapped up the appointment with my Sports Medicine Doctor and said that I would either never be able to bend forward with regularity again or I would never be able to bend backward with regularity again. I was crushed and resigned myself to a life where I would go to work, go home, rest and take care of my back and maybe see friends once in a while and nothing more.
I left my dream job and took a much simpler job with regular hours, a regular schedule and little to no overtime as I finally got the lesson after my back injury – stop pushing yourself so freaking hard.
Life sucked for a while, sitting on a chair for more than 2 hours hurts and I did no physical activity for close to two years. Thankfully I met a fantastic woman who pushed me to go to Physical Therapy and I kept on getting stronger and stronger everyday. It took three years to get to this point and my back is now at 95%, I am able to do all of the activities that I love, I actually have no issues with bending backwards or forwards at all which is an absolute miracle. I have not pushed myself as hard at work and I am in much better shape physically.
But, I had not stopped pushing myself mentally and I had not dealt with the feelings of not being good enough for quite some time and I realized that while physical healing (which I help my clients with as a health coach) is great, it is easy to slip back into old patterns if you are not working through the mental aspect that lead you to push yourself so physically hard in the first place. I am still on the journey of mental healing and am glad that I am beginning this journey. I want to support other people on this journey and my goal is to make sure that no one else does to themselves what I have done to myself and I know that there are a lot of people who are pushing themselves to the brink of injury, illness and health issues on a daily basis and want to help people through this as their health coach.