Man in Overalls - Thanks to my Grocery Growing Gurus


I'm grateful because...

Well, it started with my mother: when I was 8, she taught me how to turn over the soil with a shovel, how to sow seeds, how to break a little branch off a shrub and stake it over newly transplanted starts to lessen the brunt of the sun, how to thin carrots, stake tomatoes, dig potatoes, and crop collard greens. By and large, the basics, I learned from her. Without the fertile soil of those fundamentals nurturing my journey as a gardener and these days as an itinerant urban farmer I wouldn't have had those early seasons of (relative) success. I wouldn't have hung up my sign as they say, and I surely wouldn't have made these how-to videos with the FL Department of Agriculture in order to freely share those basic gardening skills with the state's children.

I am Man in Overalls in no small part due to the many agricultural teachers I've had through the years. I am able to support folks like yourself in growing food for self and neighbor only because I was, am, and will be supported by countless folks who know things about growing food that I don't. I have a lot of educators to be thankful for:
Aerial shot of Overalls Farm #1
Across the parental aisle, a couple years ago my father discovered a way to sift nut-grass roots from the soil using a many-tine pitch fork, which he shared with me. Long before that, he imparted on me a fine sense of neat lines & order, which wove its way into the symmetry of my Overalls Farm. Because of him, I just don't buy the "gardens are always messy" line. It's entirely possible to have a beautiful and bountiful garden! It is also, arguably, due to my father's patience with my daily garden tours throughout much of my elementary school career that I was able to cultivate a keen observation sense that allows me to assess plant health in passing without much thought.

When I was 10, I visited my aunt in San Antonio. Having found a (mostly) red tomato in her garden, I picked it.  "Ummm..." she said when I handed it to her. She explained she was waiting for them to ripen completely before picking. That afternoon, she plucked another, fully ripe, warm in the afternoon sun, sliced and salted it for us to eat immediately, and so I learned the real & utmost flavor of a homegrown tomato.
My grandmother, too, was an inspiration as much as she was an education. From her I learned that gardens kept our people fed during "Hoover's Time" (otherwise known as the Great Depression) and about blanching greens and deep freezers and the almanac and planting by the moon - though I can't say I've really ever done it.
Johnny Jump Ups (edible)
Beyond family, my buddy, and fellow Warren Wilson College alumnus Rachel, she said, "You know, I'm finding that pretty things are useful in the garden too," and it set me down this path to learn about attracting beneficial insects with flowers as an ecological insect management strategy. She also taught me about comfrey, a powerful healing herb that's also a nutrient pump that brings up minerals long-ago leached down into the subsoil - not to mention comfrey is one of those flowering plants that attracts the beneficial, predatory insects. Another lesson she imparted was that weeds blow into everyone's garden, and sometimes, to break down barriers, you've just got to get to pulling.
Warren Wilson College Garden Cabin
Additionally while at Warren Wilson, Tom, my landscape crew boss showed us how to build soil in a hurry atop, essentially, red-dirt pipe clay using composted leaves, wood chips, and cover crops. April, a friend, lent me her book on Permaculture broadening my grocery-growing perspective to the level of integrated, purposeful layout & design. Laura my ag professor made sure we understood that good agriculture must be sustainable... environmentally, socially, and financially; take any of those legs out, and it ceases to be sustainable. Warren Wilson is, also, in many ways, where I learned to cook. Though I had prepared my lunches & family dinners with decreasing support from my mother as I grew up, in our dorm kitchens, sharing recipes with fellow students, experimenting with new flavors - I learned that cooking can be as much creative expression as is playing music, painting, or, for that matter, rebuilding old cars. (For more about how we "played with our food, no, our food systems" at Warren Wilson, I wrote a blog about that entitled, "The Valley of Food and Ag Startups.")
Patty's garden
There have been, there are simply so many who have taught me, guided, and shared. Patty, a neighbor in Tallahassee taught me that gardens, do, indeed cultivate community: for nearly 10 years now she has been sharing her front yard with neighbors because she has terrific sunlight, unlike most yards in her neighborhood. It's a 'neighborly community garden.' (I posted about her garden here.)

Peter taught me about boiling ghost peppers and spraying the water around the garden as a deterrent against squirrels - and cats.

Brandy and Ted, former owners of Just Fruits and Exotics taught me about all manner of edible fruit, nut, and berries that grow here in north Florida- also: about how to install a micro irrigation systems.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to team up here in Jacksonville with Tim Armstrong of Eat Your Yard Jax for a consultation, and I picked up tidbits about the anti-cancer properties of loquat leaves and a ginger plant that makes a natural shampoo.
Learning in the shadow of Growing Power's Will Allen
And then there are the garden and farmer authors & experts, folks like Mel Bartholomew who wrote the classic Square Foot Gardening and Lacy Bullard who authored Down to Earth Gardening Down South, John Jevons and his How to Grow More Vegetables, Elliot Coleman of organic farming fame, Will Allen who got us all excited about worm composting, and the trio of guys who have made micro farming "sexy" by sharing their streamlined & profitable farming systems: Curtis Stone, Jean Martin-Fortier, and Ben Hartman. And don't even get me started on my farmer friends and mentors.

It's endless. I've got so many folks to thank, so many incredible teachers who know what they know and have willingly shared, piece by piece, lesson by lesson, season by season - growing me into the itinerant urban farmer I've become. Frequently, I learn some of the most helpful tips from folks who would consider themselves unlikely experts.
Becky's garden
For instance, just this past week, one of my customers, Becky (who I wrote about here), taught me her technique for removing torpedo grass: after digging up the top layer, she mats the ground temporarily with black plastic. A few weeks later, she pulls up the plastic and discovers all the spots she missed the first go-around because it will have resprouted. Sometimes she repeats this a couple times. Simple and brilliant.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

So, let's just say I'm grateful because... I've "not-never" had to grow it alone.

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If you want to start growing your groceries, but you're not sure how; the first step is selecting a good spot for your garden. Sign up just below to receive my updates and I'll give you a copy of my "How to Pick a Great Garden Spot" resource.
Growing forward,  if you think I might offer the support you're looking for to help you grow your groceries - especially if you're dreaming in the direction of a raised bed kitchen garden - don't hesitate to email, text, or call me by any means available (listed below in my signature).

Respectfully,
Nathan Ballentine (Man in Overalls)
Itinerant Urban Farmer, Entrepreneur, Educator, Community Organizer
Growing in Jacksonville, FL. Connecting Globally.
(904) 240-9592
Email Man In Overalls at Gmail dot com
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