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Area man writes guide for backyard farmers

Carroll grad learned from gardening mishaps.He shares advice you can try this spring.

Colin McCrate is transforming wannabe gardeners into backyard farmers, one veggie at a time.

A 1996 graduate of Carroll High School in Dayton, McCrate is the co-founder of Seattle Urban Farm Co., and the co-author of “Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Crops at Home” (Mountaineers Books, $24.95).

The book, written by McCrate and Brad Halm (also a co-founder of Seattle Urban Farm Co.), sprouted from their experience with clients and their desire to present an effective tool to a broader audience of current and potential backyard farmers.

Remembering what it was like to be a novice backyard farmer helped shape the book for McCrate.

“It was pretty easy to channel my experience because I started to grow in college (at Denison University, east of Columbus). I was so keen on educating myself, and I failed a lot — but that was what intrigued me — made it more interesting because it is complex,” McCrate said. “I have vivid memories of things going wrong. In a lot of ways it’s simple, but you have to keep basic concepts in mind.”

The information presented in the book is a practical hands-on guide for people who want to grow their own food, whether they have an entire backyard to transform or just a pot to plant basil.

And with spring approaching, now is the time for backyard farmers in southwest Ohio to apply what McCrate has learned.

What you can do

“We recommend cleaning gardens in the fall, but, if necessary, clean up your garden in the spring. For people who are getting started or are transitioning to organic farming, add compost, manure to the garden. We add about 2 inches to top of beds,” McCrate said. “Check the pH of soil. You can get pH kits at any nursery or online, and they are inexpensive, to measure the alkalinity of soil. If the pH is not in the right range for your veggies, plants will not absorb nutrients.”

McCrate said that a range of 6.3-6.9 is barely acidic.

“It is easy to adjust the pH by adding lime. Checking and correcting the pH of soil is a really easy thing that can make a big difference in your garden,” McCrate said.

Dedicating a space for your crops can be as little a couple of pots for herbs or as big as or bigger than 100 to 200 square feet.

McCrate said that a 10-foot-by-20-foot space produces a lot of food throughout the summer.

“You could plant 10 to 15 or more different crops. It’s a long season of harvesting — zucchini, beans, carrots — people who start with this space are really happy with the amount of food,” McCrate said.

For this region, McCrate recommends planting one to two plants of zucchini or other type of summer squash, tomatoes which do amazing in Ohio, and a couple plants of basil for making pesto, and beans which are easy to grow and do well in Ohio, and carrots and potatoes, which are fun for kids to harvest.

When it comes to caring for gardens, McCrate advises employing organic options.

“Growing organically is different than growing with chemicals, but it isn’t any more difficult,” McCrate said. “Over the years, growing organically should get easier because you are creating a healthy ecosystem. Gardening with chemicals will get harder because over time you are messing up the pH of soil; chemicals will get rid of 90 percent of the bugs, and the 10 percent of the bugs that remain are resistant to the chemicals. Widespread industrial farming is actually fighting nature instead of working with it.”

McCrate said that once people open up to the idea of organic farming, it becomes a logical decision. “It’s just a question of, ‘Do I want my kids playing in a garden where I’m spraying chemicals?’ ” McCrate said. “There are repercussions to using chemicals.”

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