Newsletter: San Francisco hack night, new features, and more

We’ve had some busy times over the last few months, and thought it was time to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on with Growstuff since we last sent out a newsletter, as well as what’s coming up.

Growstuff Hack Night in San Francisco, Wednesday June 18th

First of all, a quick note to those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area — we’re holding a hack night on the 18th, for anyone who’d like to help improve Growstuff, or build stuff with Growstuff’s API or open data.

What’s a hack night? It’s an evening when we get together to build and make stuff in a hands-on way. It’s participatory, fast-paced, and fun.

It’s for developers, designers, data geeks, or anyone at all who’s interested. No experience necessary — we can pair you up with someone or teach you, or if you know about growing food and are happy to talk about how you do it, we can definitely use that expertise!

Interested? Find out more information on the Growstuff Blog.

We’ll be in Portland at the end of June

Skud will be attending AdaCamp and Open Source Bridge in June, so make sure to say “hi” if you’re going to be there!

New features on the site

We’ve recently added a handful of new stuff to the site, including:

  • Crop search! This much anticipated feature makes it easy to find crops from wherever you are on the site. Try it out.
  • Roots and tubers: you can now plant vegetables such as potatoes from “root/tuber”, which was previously missing from the list. Thanks to one of our newest volunteer developers, Maco, for this improvement :)
  • We’ve replaced our maps. The old map provider stopped offering services to smaller websites, so we’ve switched to Mapbox. We apologise for the short period when the map on our Places page was out of action.
  • New crops: some of our recently added crops include Good King Henry, several varieties of kiwifruit, hazelnut, snap pea, cowpea, and
    romaine lettuce. If you find crops missing and would like them added you can request them here.

3000 Acres

Over the past few months, Skud has been working on another open source food-growing website based partly on Growstuff’s code. Check out 3000 Acres, which is helping residents of Melbourne, Australia find vacant land to grow food, and build communities to grow it with.

Since the two projects share an open source license, Growstuff also benefits by being able to re-use some of the code from 3000 Acres, so you can look forward to us picking up a few new features from them, as well.

That’s all, folks!

Stay in touch by following us on Twitter — we love to hear feedback and suggestions any time.

Growstuff Hack Night in San Francisco

Are you in the San Francisco Bay Area next week? I’m visiting town for a bit and the fab people at Double Union feminist hacker/maker space are hosting a Growstuff Hack Night for us.

When: Wednesday June 18th, 2014, 6:30-10pm

Where: Double Union, 4th floor, 333 Valencia St, in the Mission District. More info here.

Who: Anyone interested in building open source software for food growers! New developers and non-developers welcome; we’re happy to teach, pair you with someone more experienced, or help you find a non-coding project to work on.

Food: We’ll order food that fits the dietary needs of folks who come (veg*n, gluten free, etc).

There are heaps of things to work on, but some possibilities include:

  • Extending our crops database to include even more forms of edible plants (we need researchers and data entry folks for this!)
  • Displaying more visual data about how and where things are grown, including maps and charts (designers! front-end folks!)
  • Adding features like wishlists, email notifications, better social features, or better seed swapping.
  • Improving accessibility and/or responsive features.
  • Using the Growstuff API to build apps, plugins for other software, or other cool toys.
  • Analysing the data available so far from Growstuff’s gardeners, to understand how food is being grown around the world.

For those of you hoping to hack on the Growstuff code itself, you’ll need to set up your development environment. If you’d like a hand with this, ahead of the hack night itself, we’ll be at DU tomorrow night too (Thursday, June 12th) from 6:30pm and are happy to give you a hand. Or drop Skud an email at skud@growstuff.org or drop in to #growstuff on Freenode IRC any time.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Skud

Happy New Year from Growstuff

For those who use the Gregorian calendar, happy new year! And for those who celebrate holidays around this time, I hope you had good ones.

After a slow December, we’re back in top form for 2014, and keen to make Growstuff the a fantastic resource for veggie gardeners worldwide.

Join our online gathering, Wednesday 8th January

We’d love you to join us for a chat on Wednesday the 8th of January, to talk about Growstuff’s plans and directions for 2014. We’ll be doing this as part of our weekly gathering, which is held every Wednesday at a different time (to allow for people in different timezones). This week’s gathering is at noon UTC, aka:

  • Noon on Wednesday, UK time
  • 7am on Wednesday, US east coast time
  • 4am (sorry!) on Wednesday, US west cost time
  • 11pm on Wednesday, Australian east coast time
  • Or find your local time anywhere else in the world.

Our gatherings are held on IRC (a free chat system used by many Growstuff people). If you’re already familiar with IRC, we’re #growstuff on irc.freenode.net; if not, join the chat here… all you have to do is choose a nickname (any short name to identify yourself, such as your Twitter handle or similar) and connect to the #growstuff channel.

Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday!

(And if you can’t make it, there’ll be other gatherings in other timezones in future.)

Track your harvests with Growstuff

How much does your garden produce? You can now track your harvests, as well as your plantings, with Growstuff.

We’ve just rolled out the first set of harvest features, including:

As a bonus, we’ve also made CSV downloads available for our entire crops database as well as plantings and seeds.

This is the form for adding harvests:

harvest form

Adding a harvest of beets on Growstuff

As you can see, you can keep track of your harvests in both everyday units that you might use in conversation — individual vegetables, bunches, handfuls, baskets, bushels, and more — as well as by weight, in either metric or US/imperial measurements. We hope that very soon we’ll be able to say “Growstuff members have harvested 500kg of produce this month” right on our homepage. Harvesting is the flip side to the plantings we’ve been tracking since we began, and at least as important — if not more so!

permaculture melbourne logo

This work on harvests is part of our 2013 Roadmap and has been done in collaboration with Permaculture Melbourne, as part of their Harvest Benchmarking project.

There are more harvest features yet to come. If you’d like to help us build them, check out our new Getting Started guide for developers.

We’re officially awesome!

Last night I checked my voicemail and heard a message that started with garbled static and ended with “… we’d like to give you one thousand dollars!” Of course I called them straight back. “Hi, I have no idea who I’m talking to, but apparently you’d like to give me a thousand dollars?”

It turns out that Growstuff is the latest recipient of a no-strings-attached Awesome Foundation grant from Awesome Melbourne. They offered to deposit it in Growstuff’s bank account or hand it to me in cold hard cash, but assured me that whichever I choose (spoiler: it’ll be the boring but sensible bank account) there’ll still be an opportunity to get photos of them presenting me with a humorously oversized cheque. I’ll be sure to post the evidence here when that happens.

Thanks to all our volunteers and members who helped get this far, and who continue to be awesome every day!

Harvest Benchmarking: a collaboration with Permaculture Melbourne

How much food can you produce in a home garden? How efficient is small-scale food production compared to mainstream farming? Can you live off what you grow in an ordinary suburban block?

permaculture melbourne logo I’m very excited to announce that Growstuff is going to be collaborating with Permaculture Melbourne on a project to study how productive home food gardens can be. It’s called the Harvest Benchmarking Project, and Permaculture Melbourne have received a grant from Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to do it. At first they were asking gardeners to use pencil and paper to track their harvests, but with Growstuff’s help, they’ll be able to gather data online, not just from their members locally, but from Growstuff’s members worldwide.

“We want to find what the best gardeners can produce on their plots of land,” says John McKenzie from Permaculture Melbourne. “This becomes a benchmark for their area. The benchmarking project is hoping to indicate the power of urban gardening. If 20% of households could grow at the benchmark rate, then how much food could an urban community produce? We think it’s a huge amount. We think there’s an urban food production industry waiting to be recognised.”

A teenage boy weighs a basket of greens

Weighing harvested vegetables using a digital luggage scale.

Growstuff’s work on this project will be partly funded from Permaculture Melbourne’s grant, but we’re also fundraising from our wider community to support it. If you’d like to contribute $10 or more, join Growstuff then buy a paid membership quoting the code HARVEST2013 when you checkout. We are hoping to raise $1500 or more, which will help keep Growstuff running and make free, Creative Commons licensed harvest data available long-term.

Growstuff folks might recall that harvests were already listed on our roadmap for 2013. From our point of view, what this project means is that we’ll move harvests to the top of the list, and that we’ll have a real use case to focus on, which will help us understand exactly what to build.

For the next month or so, we’ll be working alongside Permaculture Melbourne to build the following features into Growstuff:

  • The ability to record harvests through a simple web form, much as you can already track what you’ve planted on Growstuff.
  • In addition to tracking your harvest of any of the almost 300 crops in our crop database, you’ll also be able to track “other” crops that aren’t yet available on our systems (this will also be applied tracking what you plant).
  • Harvests will be shown alongside plantings on the site, for instance on our crop pages.
  • Tracking the size of your garden (in square metres or feet) to help calculate productivity.
  • You’ll be able to download a CSV data dump of all harvests across the site (you can open this in Excel or the spreadsheet app of your choice).
  • Harvest data will also be available via our API and RSS feeds.

We expect that you’ll be able to sign in and track your harvests in a matter of weeks. To be notified when it’s ready, sign up for Growstuff or follow us on Twitter.

All our code is open source and of course is available on Github, or if you’d like to see how it’s all proceeding, search for “label:harvest-benchmarks” on our task tracker.

For more information, contact Alex/Growstuff at skud@growstuff.org or John McKenzie/Permaculture Melbourne at research@permaculturemelbourne.org.au.

And remember, to support this project, Buy a Growstuff membership using referral code HARVEST2013.

Newsletter: “Growing your own food should be joyful.” Meet Andrea, the Goat Lady.

Meet Andrea, the Goat Lady

Andrea, who goes by GoatLady on Growstuff, took some time out to talk to us about farming, the politics of growing your own food, and some advice for newer growers:

Growing your own food should be joyful. If all you ever want to do is grow some basil in a pot on the window sill, or a boxed mushroom kit in your closet, that’s ok. The important thing is that growing food shouldn’t make you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or inadequate. If it does, then let yourself back off, reassess, and find your joy.

goats

Goats chowing down on a young spaghetti squash. (c) Andrea Chandler

We also talked about the politics of “homesteading” and of growing your own food:

To take control of your own food to the extent you can is an act of taking back power. To then freely share your surplus is another radical act in a capitalist system. It’s also a profound act of caring for another person; sharing food is one of the oldest, most fundamental ways we have of sharing good will.

Read more (and see more pics of Andrea’s adorable goats) on the Growstuff blog.

Support Growstuff for just $10

Growstuff runs on membership subscriptions. This month, we’ve dropped the price of an annual membership to just $10 — and that’s Australian dollars, so we’re talking about $9 US, 7 EUR, less than 6 GBP, or, well, see for yourself. Peanuts!

We’re working on exclusive features for our paid members, which we’ll be rolling out soon. (The first will be the ability to “share a garden” with co-gardeners, such as your family or the other members of a community garden, giving them access to edit and plant things in the garden you share.) If you want to support this, and all the other work Growstuff does, buy a paid account now.

More crops for our crops database

We’ve added a bunch of new crops, including nectarines; the fragrant perilla aka shiso; Australian native midgen berry; red and white currants; perennial, bi-colored Okinawan spinach; and scallions, including the Welsh onion variety that’s most often found in Western markets.

If you’re growing any of these, tell us about it, or list your seeds to share.

These new crops bring our crop database to 292 distinct varieties of edible crop. Got any we’re missing? Request new crops in our support forum.

What else is new?

We’re always improving Growstuff and adding new features. Some of our recent changes include:

  • Our new places page shows where all our members are. It’s a simple use of our location data, but now we’ve got the infrastructure in place, we’ll be able to do other maps showing things like where a crop is grown, what’s growing near you, and more.
  • We’ve also improved our location-based member search, see eg. members near Roanoke, Virginia. We’ve added a map, and you’ll now see which members are closest to this location in order of distance.
  • The geodata used for our places pages has also been added to our API; see the docs for information on what you can access programmatically.
  • We’ve added “bulb” as a propagation method for new plantings.
  • We added a crop hierarchy page, mostly of use to crop wranglers but potentially of interest to our members at large. We will be adding more varieties of crops in the coming weeks.
  • We’ve added helpful text in various spots around the site, including on the new planting page.
  • You can now sign up for this newsletter when you sign up for Growstuff, or via your member settings page.

You can see what we’re working on now at tracker.growstuff.org, and if you’d like to get involved, join our discussion mailing list.

Grower profile: Andrea, the Goat Lady

Last week I had the great good fortune to interview Andrea, who goes by GoatLady on Growstuff and blogs at The Manor of Mixed Blessings. Andrea lives on a small farm in the Virginia Piedmont with 50,000 honeybees, nine goats, five cats, four dogs, two rabbits, two turkeys, and a very understanding husband who does the heavy manual labor.

goats

Goats chowing down on a young spaghetti squash. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler

What do you grow at the Manor of Mixed Blessings?

Different things every year! As a little background, because of abuse by a previous owner (he sold the topsoil on the entire 2.5 acres) we have terrible soil. It’s heavy clay with no nitrogen content — as in, when we ran soil tests to see what amendments we might need, the nitrogen test registered nothing.

Because we’re committed to growing our vegetables without synthetic fertilizer or pesticides and trying to build soil simultaneously, every year is an experiment and every year we discover a new variety that does well for us. This year we saved seed from Cherokee Trail black beans and Seneca Red Stalker corn. We also managed a bumper crop of spaghetti squash, a lot of which went to the goats and chickens. It was our first time for a fantastic potato crop, and with the addition of a bee hive our strawberry crop exploded.

We would have had peas except rabbits got through the fence and selectively ate every. single. freakin. pea plant. And then they went for the sweet corn seedlings. And the lettuces.

I’ve just planted a fall crop of lettuces, about 8 different varieties, to see what thrives now that the rabbits are too big to get through the fence. And rabbit season opens in November.

What I’m looking for are the crops that thrive here with little to no intervention from us. Some people like a very high-involvement growing style, but for me personally I want things I can drop in the ground, water in, and then forget about until it’s time for me to eat them.

Ditto with our chickens. I’m less interested in having “purebred” chickens than I am in having a flock that reproduces itself naturally and thrives on free range, including being resistant to parasites and able to evade predators. I want chickens that can put meat and eggs on the table without constantly needing medical attention, and that means carefully selecting individual birds to stay in the flock.

I spend most of my time with the goats, because goats are incredibly charming and lovely to be around. Since my goats are well socialized to people they’re very personable, to the point of demanding hugs and cuddling. Even with them, though, I’m not really interested in maintaining purity of breed. Goats will be happier when they’re healthier, and artificially limiting the gene pool isn’t really conducive to breeding hardy, healthy goats. I keep dairy goats, and because they have shows for conformation like dogs do, you see animals who look pretty but have very poor parasite and disease resistance, and hooves that need constant attention. Meat goat producers have a much healthier attitude, since they want goats they don’t have to fool with. I made the decision this year to use a Baylis line Spanish buck, a meat breed strain that’s incredibly well-adapted to conditions here in the US southeast, because as I go forward with my herd what I want more than show-winning dairy looks are goats that are hardy, adaptable, and easy to care for.

milking a goat

Milking time for Ambrosia. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler

You say you prefer the term “farmer” to “homesteader”. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I know “homesteader” is the trendy word for agrarian self-sufficiency these days, and it’s also apparent that here in the US the movement is so white it’s painful. Native American friends pointed out to me that “homesteader” means nothing good to them as it carries the weight of the US history of colonialism and genocide.

I also have problems with the way “homesteader” tries to make a very white, affluent, suburban movement out of the skills that poor rural people, including or maybe especially people of color, have been living for a long time now. We rural, working-class Southerners in the US have been derided for some of the very same practices that affluent suburban whites are now repackaging as “homesteading”. My grandfather got pulled out of school when he was seven and the Great Depression hit. He taught me what wild plants are edible, and I’ve added to what he taught me since by talking to older people and studying sources like the Foxfire books. And now that’s “wildcrafting” and the cool thing to do and it drives me up a wall that people are claiming to “rediscover” it as a “lost skill”. It was never lost, but calling it picking greens and learning it from a southern man with a second grade education just isn’t as cool as “rediscovering wildcrafting”. The very word makes me grind my teeth.

Plus the kind of small-plot agriculture that “urban homesteaders” tend to push for is this very specific, clean, pretty, romanticized thing. This is why backyard chicken ordinances often specifically ban slaughter — it’s dirty and messy and bloody and disturbs people’s sensibilities. “Urban homesteading” also ignores the fact that unless you’re being very, very careful and thoughtful, many of the practices will actually raise your carbon footprint rather than lowering it since you’re having to bring everything in.

I prefer “farmer” because it’s a more neutral word that is perfectly descriptive of what I do. I think people have this idea that a farm has to be tens of acres if not hundreds, specialized in one crop, and run like a business. Historically, though, that type of industrial monoculture ag is a recent, aberrant invention. A farm doesn’t have to be a business, and it definitely doesn’t have to be some huge thing specializing in one crop. And being a farmer for me acknowledges that a lot of what I do is dirty, messy, and even gross.

So between the implications the word “homesteader” holds for my Indian friends, who I cherish, and the personal irritation the movement causes me as a descendant of poor rural Southern folks, I want no part of the word.

What makes a “farmer” anyway? How much do you have to grow to cross over from “gardening” to “farming”?

Oh gosh, if we’re talking plant matter I probably don’t qualify! We do better every year on vegetables and fruits but we’re not where I want to be just yet.

We do however have the goats and chickens, so I produce our dairy and eggs and some of our meat here while my husband brings in cash money working outside the home. We let our hens hatch a clutch of eggs when they feel like it, and the extra roosters go into our freezer after they’ve gotten big enough to make the work of processing them worthwhile.

I think if you’re making a major contribution to your own diet, go on and call yourself a farmer. Even if your farm is a set of containers on your apartment’s patio. I’d really like US society to get away from this notion that farming is some mystical romantic thing that happens over there somewhere, because I think it contributes to problems with the food supply.

You often tweet about social justice and political issues. Do you think producing your own food is a political act?

It really, really is. Unless you’re fairly wealthy here in the US, you’re going to be buying produce from God knows where, grown under mysterious conditions, and tended by workers who are exploited and brutalized. If, that is, you can find and afford fresh produce at all. To take control of your own food production is a powerful act of rebellion for people who are relentlessly told that only organic heirloom produce is morally good but can’t afford to buy it. We could never afford to buy goat milk, cheese, or butter (seriously, the butter goes for around US$30/lb, about US$60/kg) at the store, let alone free-range heritage breed eggs and chicken (because they free-range I can’t swear the eggs & meat are organic because I have no idea what all the chickens are eating). Next year, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll have home-grown turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and heritage birds raised free range sell for upwards of $100 as a dressed carcass around here. Nor would we be able to afford to buy organically grown heirloom produce.

I also don’t sell much at all of what we produce, because for me it’s about disengaging from capitalism. I prefer to barter it for things we don’t grow or make. My neighbor on one side has a way better vegetable garden than we do, but no chickens or goats, so a lot of informal trade goes on there, and during the summer when the hens are in full swing I’ve been known to hand out eggs to anyone who expresses even a vague interest. At the height of summer the flock gives us nearly a dozen eggs a day, and there’s only so many quiches, custards, puddings, and fritattas a person can eat.

To take control of your own food to the extent you can is an act of taking back power. To then freely share your surplus is another radical act in a capitalist system. It’s also a profound act of caring for another person; sharing food is one of the oldest, most fundamental ways we have of sharing good will.

In short, I think the current capitalist industrial agriculture is taking us nowhere good. Not everyone has the opportunity to produce their own food, but when you can and do it can be an enormously political act of opting out of a broken system. It can be a powerful act of asserting that you and your community will not sit quietly and take whatever food the system allows you to buy.

What misconceptions do you think people have about producing their own food?

That it has to be this huge complicated commitment and a lot of work! You don’t have to go whole hog, and you don’t have to be an organic growing purist. I would encourage people to be thoughtful about the choices they make and try to understand all the ramifications, but if that means you end up using synthetic fertilizer or pesticides, or using a motorized tiller to break up your soil, I don’t think you deserve derision. A grower’s time and energy are a finite resource, and deserving of conservation if that’s what you need to do.

Growing your own food should be joyful. If all you ever want to do is grow some basil in a pot on the window sill, or a boxed mushroom kit in your closet, that’s ok. The important thing is that growing food shouldn’t make you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or inadequate. If it does, then let yourself back off, reassess, and find your joy.

sunflower, beans, and zucchini

Volunteer sunflower, Cherokee Trail black beans, and grey zucchini all happily sharing a garden bed. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler.

The misconception that annoys me most personally is a by-product of the urban chicken movement. City people want some chicks to raise, and because sexing chicks is notoriously inaccurate, or because they decided to hatch eggs, they wind up with roosters that are often illegal for them to keep. Then they assume that a rural farmer would just love to give those extra roosters a loving pet home. We really wouldn’t. For assured fertility you need one rooster to ten hens. We do not want to buy your extra rooster and the odds of finding someone who will take a free rooster and not eat him are slim. I recommend that backyard chicken keepers who don’t want to eat their extra roosters themselves buy young hens rather than chicks, which is the only way to be assured you won’t end up with an unwanted rooster.

What’s your favourite weird thing to grow and eat?

Plenty of people think I’m weird for drinking goat milk, but I find that’s because they’ve only tasted pasteurized goat milk from a grocery store, which tastes like you’ve just licked a buck goat. Because I can guarantee my goats are healthy, we drink their milk raw. Without pasteurization to denature the various proteins and without having the cream extracted and added back in low amounts compared to what’s there naturally, it’s sweet and rich.

Day lily buds are another favorite of mine. They are such low effort plants, and give a very tasty return for no effort beyond planting the original roots. I try to leave about half the buds to flower and feed the pollinators, but it’s difficult!

daylily buds

Day lily buds, about to be cooked. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler.

(Read more about how to cook and eat day lily buds on Andrea’s blog.)

What’s your favourite gardening tool or resource?

My favorite tool is a good knife. It comes in handy for everything, from trimming trees branches back from the fence line to digging up taproots from invasive plants like pokeweed. A good pair of gloves is another must!

There are a lot of great knowledge resources out there. I’ve learned a lot from backyardchickens.com forums, fiascofarm.com for goat care (although I ultimately disagree with their position on herbal treatments), honeybeesuite.com for bees (of course) and the books Mini-Farming and The Thinking Beekeeper. Although I do feel honor-bound to warn people that Mini-Farming is really, really dry and somehow even manages to make compost sound boring, which is difficult.

My favorite material resource is poop! The goats, chickens, and Angora rabbits all contribute. I deep-bed the goat stall, so we end up cleaning it out only about three times a year. What we get is a couple hundred cubic feet of mixed goat poop, pine shavings, and straw. That goes into a big pile where it can get rained on and the trees can drop leaves on it, and the chickens start working it over. They’ll break up any big pieces, keep the straw from forming thatch, and contribute their own poop. Periodically we put it back in a big pile, turning it as we go. After 6-12 months, we have this incredible rich black dirt.

Rabbit poop, meanwhile, is one of the very few kinds you can just toss directly on the garden without composting it first. I dump the rabbit pans into a bucket and take it straight out to the vegetable beds. With our soil as nitrogen-deprived as it is, the rabbits are a huge help!

What advice would you give someone who wanted to get a few acres and farm like you do?

Know what you’re getting into! In some rural areas you can kiss cheap reliable internet and television service good bye, for instance. Ask yourself if you can really do without pizza delivery and other urban conveniences. Rural life is very differently paced from urban life, and there just isn’t the social expectation of privacy that city-dwellers have.

Really think through how much agriculture you want to get into. While plants won’t cramp your style, nor will chickens with a well-designed coop and an adequate supply of feed and water, once you add dairy animals to the mix getting more than a day trip vacation becomes an enormous hassle. Animals in milk have to be milked out on the schedule you’ve established for them or you start risking things like mastitis. If you find someone who will do the milking for a reasonable fee, treasure them like the jewel they are.

You will be out there twice a day to care for dairy animals, every single day, no matter what the weather. I’ve cared for goats in the tail end of a hurricane, in snow storms, on days of record heat and record cold. You pretty much have to have a religious calling to be happy doing dairy animals.

Also livestock is frequently gross. I’ve done fun things like cut a maggot out of a baby goat’s side (he recovered just fine and is now a treasured pet elsewhere), clean a wound on a chicken that exposed the back of her skull (she’s still with us), and perhaps most memorably I’ve been forearm deep in a goat to help reposition a kid while she was giving birth. And my glove split. Everyone survived the experience, happily, but it’s one I could have done without. I buy better gloves now.

Probably the best thing you can do is find someone relatively local who’s doing what you’re interested in and see if they’re willing to talk, or even let you come out for a look at how they do things and a chance to get hands-on experience. Just remember that it’s perfectly fine to make your own way. Take the techniques that are useful to you, that let you grow food joyfully, and let the rest go by the wayside.


Thank you, Andrea, for your time!

If you grow your own food, whether you think of yourself as a farmer or a gardener or anything else, why not join Growstuff to track what you’re growing, share seeds, and connect with other growers?

We’ve dropped the price of our paid accounts

From the start, we wanted to make our paid accounts “pay what you want”, so that people could support Growstuff at whatever level fitted their budget and level of enthusiasm.

Somehow, along the way, we got talked into setting a minimum price that was quite close to what we hoped people would pay: $30ish for an annual membership. That didn’t leave much room for real choice, nor for those who want to support Growstuff but whose finances are tight.

Today, we’ve remedied that mistake. The base price of our paid accounts just dropped to $10. We intend to keep it this way at least for the month of September, and see what happens. If it’s working well, we’ll keep it this way indefinitely.

What you get for your paid account: for now, your Growstuff member profile will identify you as a supporter, and you’ll have the warm glow of knowing that you’re helping an open source, collaborative, community-oriented gardening site to grow and thrive. In the near future: a range of premium, paid-account-only features, starting with the ability to “share a garden” with co-gardeners, so more than one person can track what’s planted in the same garden. The code for this is underway at present (follow our progress), and other paid features are being planned for further down the road.

If you’d like to chip in $10 or more to support Growstuff: buy a paid account.

Newsletter: Over a thousand plantings!

Congratulations, everyone! Growstuff reached a milestone this month: more than 1,000 plantings (actually, 1,188 at the time of writing), of everything from achiote to zucchini.

It’s been a big month here at Growstuff, so read on to find out what’s been happening.

New features

The biggest change was our new homepage, which puts more of our gardeners’ activity front and centre. This was a huge job, and took us weeks and weeks of work. Thanks to all the volunteers who helped with planning, building, and testing it!

Looking good!

Looking good!

Other recent improvements include:

  • Member bios: You can now describe yourself right on your member profile page.
  • Photos on crop page: Now we have enough photos being uploaded, we’re showing them on the crop detail page. For example, cucumber and strawberry.
  • Crop wrangling tools: We’ve built tools for our volunteer crop wranglers to add more new crops, including those requested by our members.
  • RSS improvements: we’ve added some RSS feeds (eg. seeds) and made others more informative. Read more about our RSS feeds.
  • API improvements: some general cleanup to the “version 0″ API (i.e. Application Programming Interface, which people can use to build apps on Growstuff’s data). Read more about our API, including plans for version 1.0.

We’re continuing to plug away at the planned features on our Roadmap for 2013, and at present the estimated completion date (based on our previous velocity) stands at mid January 2014.

As usual, a shout-out to all our volunteer coders, testers, customers, and everyone else on the discussion list who helped bring these new features to fruition.

We need your help to keep growing

A couple of months back we posted about our finances. It doesn’t cost very much to keep Growstuff running, but every little bit of money is enormously important to us. We can’t operate without our members and supporters buying paid subscriptions. Please, if you want Growstuff to continue to grow, consider buying a an annual or seed membership!

Read all about us!

We’ve had some great coverage on various blogs this month, which has helped bring lots of new members to the site. Here’s what they’re saying about us:

“On the internet, it’s generally our personal data that’s cultivated, harvested, and converted into profits. Perhaps freely sharing data might be the thing that sets Growstuff apart. After all, gardeners have always been good about sharing their bounty.”

Grist Magazine, “Cultivating an app for how your garden grows”

“Skud had committed to open sourcing the site and making the development and planning process for it transparent, decisions that chilled me to the very marrow, but which she considered crucial to the success of her project. Reasoning that I had the most to learn from people who took a radically different approach, I forked over the $37 and sat back to see what would happen.”

Maciej Ceglowski interviews Growstuff’s founder for the Pinboard blog

There was also an interview on the Ada Initiative blog about Growstuff, pair programming, and social justice, and an article on Greensavers, a Portuguese site, which brought us lots of visitors and quite a few new members from the Portugese-speaking world. Olá e bem vindos!

We’re recruiting crop wranglers

Want to help us improve our crop database? You can volunteer as a crop wrangler, and spend as little as an hour a month (or as much time as you want) researching and entering data for new crops. Our first project is a full complement of sweet and hot peppers, everything from mild bell peppers (or capsicums as we call them in Australia) to super-hot habaneros. Interested? There’s more info here.

And that’s it for this newsletter. Until next time!