Today we’re going to peek into lifelong Amish farmer John Kempf’s garden.
Peeking is a ongoing series where I peek into other’s gardens and snoop around. If you’re in the NYC area and have a garden you’d like to share, please email me. I’d love to see what you are doing and share your garden story! For more peeking posts click here.
“Really healthy plants start with really healthy seedlings,” explains John Kempf. I got John to answer a few questions about garden memories and helpful tips. He also shared some great photos with Brooklyn Farm Girl of his farm in Ohio. Hope you enjoy today’s feature!
Can you tell us about your first childhood memory in the garden?
I clearly remember helping transplant vegetable plants into the soil, and reveling in the feeling of the soil underneath my bare feet, the feeling of being closely connected to the seedlings and the awe of being able to plant one seed and get a hundred in return.
What are in your plans for your summer garden?
My garden is more of a full-fledged farm so I’m working on a much larger scale. The crops we grow include lots of fruits and vegetables, including cantaloupes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beets, salad greens, and culinary and medicinal herbs.
You have to pick one favorite. What’s your favorite vegetable to grow?
I love growing tomatoes because they are so responsive to enhanced nutrition and give such a great response to close attention.
Do you have any tips for beginning gardeners? So many people always tell me they want to start but are always discouraged and scared of failing.
A very useful technique can be to contemplate about how you would feel if you were the plant. The feeling of connection to the plants we are growing and being a part of natural systems is an inspiration, and we learn to value who are, and how we can contribute. People bring empathy to the landscape.
Can you tell us about Advancing Eco Agriculture? Why did you start it?
Advancing Eco Agriculture is a regenerative farming and crop consulting company. We work with farmers throughout the U.S. and Canada to optimize plant health and productivity.
My family had purchased a neighboring plot of land and began growing cantaloupes on both this new plot and our land. After some time, the fruit on our land was covered with downy and powdery mildew while the fruit on the new land had absolutely none. I started researching and reading everything I could to understand why this was happening. I realized it was because the quality of the soil plays such a vital role in the plant’s overall health. I started AEA in 2006 after I realized I was spending more time researching than I was actually tending to our family farm.
Here are some more tips from John:
“Most seedlings today are grown for appearance rather than utility,” Kempf says. “Instead of buying the largest seedlings, get the ones with the shortest, sturdiest stems.” For example, tomato seedlings should be 6 inches, not 12 inches, tall. If the upper part of the plant becomes too big for the root system, the roots won’t be able to get enough water to support the top of the plant, resulting in transplant shock.
A biological fertilizer such as compost tea, liquid seaweed, kelp meal or alfalfa meal should be introduced into the hole at planting or transplanting. This will provide minerals to the plant and enhance soil biology.
“The first three weeks after planting are absolutely critical for best performance,” notes Kempf. This includes proper watering and protection from frost.
Stay in the Shallow End
Seedlings are frequently transplanted too deeply, which can lead to rot or fungus on the stem. Seedlings should be planted at the same depth as they were at the greenhouse; don’t bury the stem. The only exception is tomatoes.
It’s Better to Wait
Do not use pesticides prophylactically; only use them if and when you have a challenge. (“Pesticide” encompasses insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.) Pesticides actually make your healthy plants unhealthy. Just applying pesticide triggers a different kind of plant metabolism that will attract disease and insects.
As founder and CEO of Middlefield, Ohio-based Advancing Eco Agriculture, Kempf specializes in optimizing plant health and soil biology to increase the yield, nutrient density and shelf life of crops.