The New Organic Garden

By Swezey, Lauren Bonar; Cohoon, Sharon et al. | Sunset, May 1997 | Go to article overview

The New Organic Garden


Swezey, Lauren Bonar, Cohoon, Sharon, McCausland, Jim, Sunset


Expert gardeners share tips for growing gorgeous crops without chemicals

A mere 20 years ago, when the 1950s chemical mentality still dominated the agricultural scene, organically grown vegetables were found only in a few backyards and natural-food stores, and organic gardeners were thought of as antiestablishment types who flavored theft macrobiotic meals with bean sprouts.

But in recent years scare after scare over pesticide-contaminated foods has prompted many farmers and home gardeners to begin using alternative controls for pesticide-resistant insects and diseases. As we've delivered in Sunset's editorial test garden, a healthy, chemical-free garden - filled with colorful and diverse plants - is always rich in wildlife.

On the following pages, organic-gardening pros Joe Queirolo, Loren Nancarrow, and the Foster family reveal the secrets of their gardens' success. Although they live in different climates and garden for different reasons, all of them agree on this basic principle: Take care of the earth and it will reward you well.

Good garden, good food at Crow Canyon Garden

Joe Queirolo's life changed 20 years ago when he read a book called How to Grow More Vegetables, by organic-gardening guru John Jeavons (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 1995; $16.95). The book advocated chemical-free gardening and other methods that, when combined, build soil fertility and produce higher yields - using a fraction of the resources consumed by crops produced by conventional methods. "It made so much sense to work with the natural world rather than trying to dominate it," Queirolo explains. "And I just didn't trust chemicals."

Jeavons's book prompted Queirolo to study horticulture at the local college. One day his class visited the garden next to Mudd's Restaurant in San Ramon, California (then owned and run by the restaurant, now owned by the city and managed by the nonprofit Crow Canyon Institute). And there, Queirolo saw 2 beautiful acres carpeted with lush vegetables and herbs and edged with fruit trees. "Their basil was huge - mine was puny. They were growing all of the herbs, vegetables, and fruits that I like to grow, and the garden was so alive and vibrant," he says.

Queirolo took a job as a gardener at Mudd's, and has been there ever since. "When I started, everything was done by hand, including weeding," says Queirolo. "You become synchronized with the garden when you pay such close attention to it - you can almost feel when something has to be done." Since then, the staff has moved up the "ladder of technology" (they use hoes). But, says Queirolo, "we're always in the garden and always watching."

An urban cowboy's dream garden

Loren Nancarrow, you could argue, became an organic farmer because he always wanted to be a cowboy. "Growing up in Connecticut, being a cowboy seemed like the most exotic life imaginable," says the San Diego County resident. But when Nancarrow got the opportunity to observe ranching firsthand while attending college in New Mexico during the '70s he was appalled at the amount of chemicals used to sustain that lifestyle. "Basically, they treated everything as a pest. I found it very troubling," he says.

Surely the self-sustaining lifestyle didn't require annihilating so many other living things. But it wasn't until 1991, when Nancarrow took the position of broadcaster of weather, wildlife, and gardening news on KFMB TV Channel 8 and bought a 3-acre property in the still predominantly agrarian community of Olivenhain, California, that he was able to put that theory to the test.

He put in a 1,000-square-foot vegetable garden and a citrus and stone fruit orchard. Turkeys and either a cow or a pig are usually on hand, too. With all the animals on the premises - and access to neighbors' horse stables - Nancarrow has no shortage of manure. He also maintains a huge compost pile. Naturally, his soil is wonderful.

Pest management is Nancarrow's biggest problem. …

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