Ben is a Vegan, and a Master Gardener in southwest VA practicing permaculture. Currently Ben works as the Planetarium guy at the local science museum, but has also worked as a graphic designer, educator.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Ben and his wife live in the sw Boston area of Virginia. It’s a Zone B USDA hardiness zone. Ben has his BA in Fine Arts in 1995 from VA tech.
BTell me about your first gardening experience?
Ben’s first own garden was when he was college age – in his early 20s he had a small kitchen garden on a strip outside his apartment. As a kid everyone had a garden, aunts & uncles, all had gardens. Ben wasn’t really into gardening as a kid but got into it till in his 30s.
They have a black walnut tree that secrets a toxic chemical that suppresses the growth of a lot of stuff in their backyard. People say “Nothing will grow under there” but he found out that’s not necessarily true.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Gardening you can do with your whole family and your pets present. The garden is not just for you to extract from, it’s about building a relationship with the land and the place you are.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
Searching online for answers to Black Walnut tree problem when neighbors suggested cutting it down.
Permes.com – Paul Wheaton
How did you learn how to garden organically?
Joined master gardeners group in Halifax County, VA. 16 week training and volunteer. Got sent to college last summer on scholarship. Also took an online permaculture design class where he earned his certificate.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Nasturtiums – little edible flowers make great soft borders. Mounding varieties and vining varieties that draw pollinators.
Sweet potatoes – determined to make a banana circle – compost surrounded by banana plants/trees. Add sunchokes or sweet potatoes as a ground cover. Used a Japanese variety of banana plant that is cold weather hardy are heavy feeders and can dispose of pet waste. Yes! It’s true, forget throwing those plastic bags in the garbage!
Lots of perennial plants – bush cherries.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
Using more Straw Bales which take less watering. Likes adding new perennials – thought wild strawberries grow well so going to see if cultivated strawberries would grow – got 6 weeks of strawberries.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
Bare-root almond tree that failed. Not sure what happened. Gonna try again in different places in the garden.
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway
loosening hard soil – daikon radish – Japanese – produces beautiful purple flowers and after it’s done so it mulches itself, leave roots in ground, as they decay they provide food for worms and they aerate the soil doing a lot of the plowing for you. Did this where they planted fruit trees in orchard and it did a great.
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
Lettuces – Simpson, tom thumb micro lettuce – smaller then your fist, a dwarf lettuce and some cool tennis ball lettuces.
Seed savers – lists different varieties that say “slow to bolt”
Malabar spinach – its a vine but can take a beating in the heat.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
If your a new gardener think about planting it and when is going to be at the harvest stage – cabbage or broccoli that prefers cooler weather, make sure you start with healthy larger plants in the early spring.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
Watching something die.
Lots of people probably say weeding, but when you study permaculture you can learn a lot about the soil. When you see dandelions you know the soil is compacted. Chickweed that has a fibrous root structure maybe where there is lots of erosion, it is trying to hold the soil together. By breaking up the soil then you cultivate something you are more interested in.
“What is this weed trying to tell me? How do I make the conditions right for these conditions?”
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
Checking on it everyday. Morning ritual where I take a cup of coffee and watching the cycles. Enjoying watching the animals that are in the yard, starting to identify different birds. Take time to just “be” and observe what has changed, and the satisfaction of having an idea that this could do well here, and then seeing it succeed.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
Pitchfork. Easiest way to turn compost. Could almost be a pseudo shovel.
Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time?
Don’t plant things you wont eat. Plant things you know you want to eat. And try to plant them close to house and the kitchen.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
Would like to take a class on canning. Have done some dehydration.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
First year you plant strawberries, pick buds off, so they focus on growing roots and you will get a better plant the next year. Don’t worry about getting produce the first year.
Herb garden – always grew chives and threw into salads.
Got a breakfast at a local restaurant called Savory Oats:
Oatmeal with chives, soy sauce, and nutritional yeast flakes.
Jackie also suggested popcorn with nutritional yeast and Braggs Aminos (mix with a little melted butter) mmm. (not my exact recipe but close)
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Cool Salad: Simpsons lettuce, rice, tofu, and a Thai peanut sauce (peanut butter, maple syrup, a little bit of soy sauce) with crushed red pepper.
A favorite internet resource?
From Australia. Lots of great videos. Climate change could be fueling their search for solutions.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can
Anything by Toby Hemenway – Pattern Literacy website
Show called Survival Podcast by Jack Spirko about merits of growing
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?
Ben blogs at themainstreetgardener.com
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the earth either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
Vegan is movement in the right direction and learning about the beneficial relationship between plants and animals. Encourage a shift towards perennial crops
Tree Crops written in the 1920s looking at fore-signs of dustbowl and what was happening. Lots to do with shift towards modern agriculture.
Alan Savory about grazing
Joel Sallatin in VA doing work with animals where they have infinitely quality of life.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
A society is great when old men plant trees under which whose shade they will never sit. Paying it forward attitude.
Advice from a master gardener “Plants are a lot like kids – the more babying you give them the more they will need.”
Ben encourages listeners to reach out and find him on Instagram and Twitter: @bencapozzi
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