Building Your Own Food Garden: Farm Manager Matt Gunn

Matt Gunn

The buckeyes have leafed out, the redbuds are flowering, the magnolia flowers have come and gone, and little tomato seedlings in greenhouses across California are emerging from their little seed coats to meet the light of day. Here are a few tips as you prepare for a summer garden, no matter where you live:

If you’ve never used compost, get some! There is fertility in compost—the elusive nitrogen and reluctant phosphorus to name just two elements–but, more to the point, compost is teeming with microbiology that will colonize the roots of your plants and make the fertility that’s already in your soil biologically available. This is akin to you drinking kombucha and eating yogurt. Good biological cultures = good digestion = good health!

Don’t be afraid of sand, silt, and clay. Oftentimes folks feel like they need to buy topsoil from big box stores to grow their gardens, but many of those bagged products are organic matter with soluble nutrients added in. You get a big, dark-green (nitrogen) plant that first year, but then it seems like the soil is “spent” (plus it’s more expensive than compost). The secret is, you don’t have to buy new soil every year to grow a garden! You just have to learn to work with what you’ve got. To tame heavier clay soil, work calcium (gypsum or oyster shell) and compost into the soil when it’s not too wet but also not totally dry.

Check out How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons for some inspiration!

Matthew Gunn is the farm manager for the CIA in California, where he is responsible for the operations of the CIA Student Farm at Charles Krug, herb terrace at the CIA at Greystone, and gardens at the CIA at Copia.

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