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"Why did you move there in the first place?" people often ask when hearing of how we accidentaly started a chicken sanctuary in the middle of poultry country. I never can answer the question adequately, but one factor was gardening. When I worked as a tenant organizer in Ann Arbor, I started a small backyard vegetable garden primarily for the purpose of satisfying my craving for the good-tasting tomatoes I remembered from but never could find in Michigan. (Adding a little sand to the soil did the trick. ) Right away, I noticed that gardening helped me to feel more grounded, which I guess should not have been surprising, since it put me into intimate contact with the actual earth. Within a few years, I was growing more than a hundred varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs in a in the neighboring city of . I was amazed by how much viagra free trial food I was able to grow in an urban backyard. So, one thing that we were thinking when we moved to the country (not knowing that we would be settling in amid factory farms) was that I would have enough room to grow almost all of our food. Ironically, I've been so busy with the birds and related animal advocacy every spring that I've not yet had as good a garden here in the country as I had back in the city. Still, it's fun to garden with and for birds. Chickens are very curious. There's always somebody keeping an eye on me to see if I might be doing something interesting. That interest is rewarded when I start digging. Turn over a spadeful of earth and here come the hens, avidly scratching right along with me (and incidentally helping me to aerate the soil). I like knowing that they will be sharing the garden's bounty viagra free trial, too. Excess vegetables are never a problem here! Already, I am looking forward to the fun of gathering handfuls of cherry tomatoes to toss to the chickens as a surprise morning treat or slicing open a watermelon for their refreshment on a hot afternoon. Of course, protecting tender seedlings from curious chickens takes a bit of ingenuity, but I like the creativity of doing things like making protective sleeves out of soymilk containers. All of which is a very long way of introducing the fact that I happened to see a sack of so-called "organic fertilizer" yesterday. That got me thinking about the difference between organic and veganic -- and about the difference betwee organic and "organic. " The first year I had a garden, I foolishly bought such a sack of fertilizer, not trusting that the healthy soil of my virgin garden would have the nutrients to sustain the plants. Shocked by the stench when I opened the bag, I looked more closely at the label, learning that "poultry litter" was the primary ingredient. As a vegetarian, I wasn't very happy about that. Plus, I wondered, what had they fed those chickens? If what they had eaten hadn't been organic, how could their droppings be? I didn't know the half of it! The birds locked up on those from which all that poultry litter comes are fed , , and -- believe it or not -- , all of which end up in their waste. Viagra free trial so, that "organic" fertilizer isn't so organic, after all! of course, concern for the environment and your own health are not the only reasons to avoid animal-based soil amendments. When you buy blood or bone meal (from slaughterhouses) or poultry litter (from factory farms), you're helping to keep the cruel "animal agriculture" industry profitable. Moreover, when you buy any of those products, you're also buying the idea that animals are exploitable resources rather than sentient beings with wishes and projects of their own. What's the alternative? Well, first, you might not need any soil amendments at all. Healthy soil with lots of organic matter doesn't need your help to nourish plants. Keep the soil healthy by rotating crops and composting your garden waste each season. Dig in your composted kitchen scraps too and, in most cases, that's all you'll need to do, especially if you've used fall leaves as the brown matter when composting your scraps. How can you tell if your soil is healthy and ready for gardening? One simple test is to put some of your soil into a quart-sized jar of water and let it settle. After several hours, the sand will settle to the bottom, the clay will float to the top, and the silt will sit in the middle. If the three layers are about even, you've got good loamy soil. If you're soil is too heavy in either clay or sand, adding organic matter such as compost or leaf mold can fix the problem, improving the drainage of clay soils or slowing down the drainage of sandy soils. What about the basic chemicals -- primarily nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (the N-P-K that you see on fertilizer labels) -- that plants need to grow? Again, a soil that is healthy and high in organic matter ought to be okay. You can use one of those soil testing kits at the garden store to check, but I never have. If you do discover a problem in the course of the growing season, such as slow growth of greenery due to lack of nitrogen or poor fruiting due to low potassium, there are plenty of soil amendments that do not depend on the exploitation of animals. For nitrogen, seaweed, kelp meal, coffee grounds (shade grown and fair trade, of course!), soybean meal, and alfalfa meal are all good. For potassium, try wood ash, greensand, or seaweed. For phosphorus, you can't beat rock phosphate. And, of course, compost is a great source of all three! Check out this of the N-P-K [viagra free trial] analysis of vegan garden amendments courtesy of the . Those of us who shun animal-based amendments and also avoid killing insects call ourselves "veganic" gardeners. For more information on veganic gardening, see on plant-based agriculture and on cruelty-free agriculture. I'll probably have more to say about all of this, along with more tips, as the season continues. In the meantime, if you have some tips or resources to share, please do! One of these days, I'm going to get around to writing a book about veganic agricultural practices from around the world. And of course, like all gardeners, I'm always eager to hear about and try out the creative innovations of other plant fanatics. Oh, and, please do pass this along to your friends who garden! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go outside and dig with the chickens. . .


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