John Tullock grew up on a farm in the hills of eastern Tennessee and has never lost his fascination with the natural world. He earned a master’s degree in aquatic biology from the University of Tennessee, and has been involved with aquariums, water gardens, wildlife conservation and, of course, gardening, for over forty years. His current passions include growing food and raising rare plants on his quarter acre suburban residence near Knoxville. He is the author of numerous books, the latest of which is The New American Homestead: Sustainable, Self-Sufficient Living in the Country or in the City. When not gardening, writing or lecturing, he does market research and product development for a national retail trade group.

Recent Blog Posts

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Welcome to The Permanent Gardener
by John Tullock - posted 01/20/12

Welcome to "The Permanent Gardener!"

I chose the title for two reasons. One, I plan to garden permanently, that is, as long as I am physically able. Hopefully, one day I'll topple over while hoeing. Secondly, I hope to focus our weekly conversation on the notion of "permaculture" and how it applies to a home garden here in the Tennessee Valley.

"Permaculture" is derived from the combination of "permanent" and "agriculture." It was conceived by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren about 20 years ago. Originally intended as a set of design principles for small farmers in Australia and New Zealand, the idea has spread across the world. The Twelve Principles of Permaculture are as follows:

  1. Observe and interact.
  2. Capture and store energy.
  3. Obtain a yield.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services.
  6. Produce no waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate.
  9. Use small and slow solutions.
  10. Use and value diversity.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change.

One or more of these will illuminate future blog posts.


Lettuce in coldframeAt this time of year, the principle of "obtain a yield" may be on your mind as you plan your kitchen garden for the coming season. January here in Zone 7 is the time to start leeks, onions, celery and cabbage family crops if you are starting from seed. If you are new to food gardening, start a pot of green onions on your sunniest windowsill, and in a couple of months you'll have plenty of starts to set out in your garden.

If your favorite garden center does not already have their seed racks up, grab some green onion seeds as soon as they do. Seed for members of the onion family should be as fresh as possible to insure good germination. Fill a 6-inch pot with any good potting mix and water it well. Scatter the seed on top. Try to spread them evenly, about a quarter of an inch apart. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting mix, sand or vermiculite, and water well again. Stretch a sheet of plastic wrap over the pot to hold in moisture, and place it in a sunny window. Plants should begin to emerge in a week or so, at which time remove the plastic wrap. Keep the baby scallions well watered, and feed them lightly every two weeks with a soluble organic fertilizer. Fish emulsion, diluted in water, is a good choice during winter.

You can transplant green onions to the garden beginning about a month before the last anticipated frost. In my garden, that is the middle of March. Prepare your onion bed by working in a tablespoon of cottonseed meal and a tablespoon of bone meal for each 10 square feet. Knock the mass of onions out of the pot and carefully separate them. Using scissors, trim the green tops to about 2 inches, and snip off all but about an inch and a half of the roots. Set them out by poking a hole in the soil with your finger and dropping a plant in. Space them about 4 inches apart each way. Another approach is to tuck scallions in between plants of other early crops, such as lettuce. Mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Onions of any kind do not like weeds.

Begin harvesting green onions when they are the diameter of a pencil. They never form a bulb, and will remain in the garden all season, though you will probably want to use them all before they are larger in diameter than half an inch or so. Some green onions are capable of overwintering in place, whereupon they will form a bunch of offsets that can be harvested the following spring, separated and replanted indefinitely. Look for the cultivar Evergreen White Bunching, if you want to try this. Another good selection is 'Parade.' This recently introduced scallion has a longer white portion and shorter green tops than other types.

One day harvestPictured at left is an example of just how much food you can harvest from a backyard plot. This is one day's harvest from September, 2011.



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