Tomatoes Love Marigolds
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
I’d known about the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) for years, but I never thought of joining because what we do here is as far from farming as flying a kite is from flying an airplane. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a neighbor posted to The L, our tiny town’s e-mail list and surrogate local newspaper, information about the Massachusetts chapter’s organic gardening skills workshop. It sounded interesting, it was only a half-hour’s drive from where we live, and we’ve been growing food long enough to know there’s still much to learn.
Here’s the workshop description I found on the Massachusetts group’s website:
This Spring, just as it comes time to plant the garden, NOFA/Mass presents our second annual Statewide Spring Organic Gardening Day. On April 18, there will be organic gardening workshops in every region of the state. Growing our own food is an excellent way to save money, lessen our carbon footprint, improve our health, and connect with neighbors and nature. Isn’t now a good time to learn skills that will help you plant a garden and make it productive throughout the year?
Topics that will be covered at these workshops:
- Starting garden beds
- Seed Starting
- Organic soil fertility
- Organic soil amendments
- Mulches and cover crops
- Weeds, disease and pests
- What to plant when
- Crop spacing
- Succession cropping
So we signed up, and we went. Part of the motivation was that I’ve been needing a kick in the pants to get the garden going this year. I got that, for sure. Nina, the presenter, brought 40 years’ experience to the task, along with such contagious enthusiasm that I came home fairly itching to get my hands in the soil.
Thirteen such workshops were held that day in Massachusetts, stretching across the state from the Atlantic Ocean’s coast to the New York border. New England states are a fraction of the size of those in the rest of the country. If you take the scenic route, you can get all the way across the state in about four hours. That means that probably no one was more than an hour away from a workshop. I’m in awe at the organizing involved in getting the program together.
And that’s not all that’s going on. NOFA/Mass has a spring and summer schedule that includes workshops on making bread and cheese, converting a gas-burning engine to use biodiesel fuel, training draft horses, beekeeping, and just about every other enviro-friendly activity you can name.
Members (of which I am now one) can get good prices on various products. There’s a place to ask gardening questions, which are answered by email. The NOFA/Mass site also links to a USDA accredited organic farm certifying company.
In addition to Massachusetts NOFA organizations exist in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Not all seem as well-developed as the Massachusetts group, but perhaps if you live in one of the less active states you could do something about that.
Next to our wonderfully generous instructor, my husband and I were probably the most experienced gardeners of the dozen or so at the workshop. I didn’t come home with any life-changing revelations, but I learned that I’m way too compulsive about how pretty my garden looks and would probably be more productive if I eased up a bit. I learned that I’m planting my root vegetables too far apart in a real “duh!” moment when Nina poked her finger into the soil to show how far apart she plants carrot seeds — the width of a carrot, for crying out loud. Why didn’t I think of that?
At the end of the workshop, Nina let folks have some surplus seedlings and seeds. I came home with an envelope full of tall orange marigold seeds, which I’ll plant around the tomatoes to keep pests away.
Posted on April 21st, 2009 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Agriculture