A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
[ Member listing ]
Typical January weather includes snow, frozen ground, wind and lake effect snow showers. On Saturday the 12th we had record high temperatures and spring fever. Climate change is wacky sometimes.
During our warm day the kitchen scraps were added to the compost pile. Many honey bees (Apis mellifera) were working through the heap looking for sustenance. The weather had them out of the hive and foraging. We have no flowering plants at this time of the year so they scavenge for edibles. I watched as they worked over squash goop, and other partially decomposed compost ingredients. With the weather as mild as it’s been I’m sure the bees are doing what they are genetically inclined to do, gather food when weather warms. It’s still early winter so the spring fever is temporary.
Back in December I had ordered seed for the main crops. What remained were trial items. I enjoy trialing different crops to see how they might contribute to the farm offerings. The tempting descriptions and possibilities are fun to explore. Some trials succeed , some need to be repeated to better gauge value, and some fail. For example one time I ran across an Italian herb/green called Agretti. The description was tempting and a packet was ordered and planted. The agretti grew and was harvested as recommended. It was cooked and presented. The overwhelming response from all who tried it was that it tasted like a pine tree! No one could imagine how it would contribute to their table and food enjoyment. So agretti was a non-repeater. It may be of value in Italian kitchens but unlikely to be of value here.
One conclusion has come from the trials. Seed vigor and plant viability varies from lot to lot and from variety to variety. Many of my trials are searches for more vigorous and better producing varieties. For example I’ve grown Rosa Bianca eggplant for quite a while. I was often disappointed with production and plant vigor. A shift in supplier resulted in healthier more vigorous plants. Production was the best ever. Was it the season or the seed? Clearly I had run across seed with more vigor. The last few years I’ve trialed Open Pollinated(OP) seeds searching for plant vigor and eating qualities. Many of the “new” and “organic” seeds lack these features. A Golden Zucchini was glowing in description but a poor producer in the field. Given a couple of years and careful attention it still lacked qualities for future inclusion. This season trials will include new zucchini varieties, a wax bean, a traditional eggplant, OP carrots and rapini. What fun….
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 08:37 AM EST
Putting a blog post up each week is a simple thing. It doesn’t take much time. During the week ideas come from things I’ve read, heard or experienced. This week I had a multitude of ideas and had started a post about “Sustainable Ag”. I’ve run across so many definitions and concepts from ”economically sustainable” to “ecologically sustainable” that the topic is a mess of conflicting POV’s. I started on what sustainable should represent. I ended up lost in the topic…not making sense or having a clear thesis to press forward. I’ll have to put more thought to “Sustainable” before I post.
Another topic might have been about waste from agriculture. By waste I mean product that farmers and those in the supply chain don’t find a consumer for. There have been articles and research on how much food never gets to consumers. Staggering amounts that spoil or are produced at a time that nobody can utilize them. This topic is a classic that scratches at the ignorance about food production and utilization. Farmers massively overproduce. What doesn’t find a consumer is basically compost. For some reason the public has an ethic that this overproduction needs to be directed to the needy. In a market that is encouraged to over-produce, we don’t have a method to deal with excess. Some high density population areas have developed food banks and gleaners to address this but realistically the over production is still compost. I saw a presentation by the director of “Growing Power” that showed how they composted tons of grocery chain spoiled produce for their gardening program. Why are we surprised that we have excess? I had hoped to delve into the management issues a farmer deals with in planning for the “right amount” of production. Again a topic that needs time for thought…
And, another topic is our continuing weather uncertainties. Drought impacts a large portion of the country. Here in SW Michigan we have minimal short term issues but a level of concern underlies future planning. The winter precipitation has been way below normal. Subsoil moisture is low and aquifer levels are down. Will we hear more stories about lakefront homeowners having to walk 200’ to the shoreline that used to be out the patio door?
The FDA has released a new Food Safety document. To be expected, not everyone is happy. In trying to address some glaring failures of the food system the FDA has tried to encompass food production with this document. I wonder if the writers have any concept of what small, direct to consumer farmers do to protect themselves and customers. Farmers are the key in determining methods of production, handling, and education of consumers. Ask any farm marketer what steps they take to insure the wellbeing of their customers. With generous exemptions and low levels of inspection capabilities this whole effort from the FDA will have more impact on big industrial farms. It’s nice to see that the big guys will have to use some of the common sense methods we small farmers have used for years and prove it!
And there are more ideas….just not ready for the blog yet. Ideas that bounce around and slowly gel to become something coherent. Or sometimes set aside to allow a more pressing topic or rant surface. Always more to think on and share than ever gets put up! Maybe something good for next week…
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:41 AM EST
The Holidays, snow accumulation and time with family makes this a wonderful time of the year. Everyone at our house is either on break or taking advantage of the season to do a lot less of the everyday and a lot more of the fun holiday things. The farmer in me feels like all of this free time should be put to good use. Of course there is just about nothing to do that wouldn’t be better done at another time. So I catch up on sports, read last summers’ magazines, and waste time on the computer.
The garden plan is all set, seeds are ordered, and CSA info prepped. Not a lot to bother with. During years past I made efforts to read books on relevant topics during this lull in the season. I ordered many through Inter-Library loan and read them and made notes. I re-read important works by Coleman, Rodale,..etc.to expand understanding. I went to the Conferences to exchange ideas and make contacts. Over time I developed a set of questions that I worked on answering and I realized that so many of them were not addressed by books or conference discussions.
The questions had little to do with the science of farming (agriculture) and more to do with what I call the managing variables part of farming (art). All plants need a set of basic factors to produce a crop; water, CO2, sunlight, nutrients,…The scientist will indicate so much water, and so much N-P-K and blah, blah , blah….This farmer knows that you can put all of these things together and still end up with a poor crop. What factors contribute to a fantastic crop? What can I do to make a good crop a great crop? How do I duplicate lasts years exceptional root crops with this years’ conditions? Over the years you build a base of information. A crop may be spectacular and you wonder which variable or what combination of variables allowed the crop to push the limits of genetic potential? Which planting method with these conditions will favor the crop best? I know a few vegetable farmers that concern themselves with gross yield. So their questions are always about what inputs will give the greatest yield. I ask how will these methods impact product quality? Which cultivation methods favor plant growth? Is saved seed from healthy mature plants more vigorous than purchased seed? I have 4 hours of time and how do I use it to best impact the farm? Will the field composting of year old manures be a better net return than windrowing and turning? The questions keep accumulating and getting partially answered. It seems the answers are a bit more complex than I often imagine. Which of course makes sense, I’m dealing with a complex natural system that we only understand in a general manner.
I’ve been reading some thought provoking works not necessarily farm related. One is the following by Charles Eisenstein, http://sacred-economics.com/ His work on scarcity and money are very relevant and thought provoking. There is plenty that applies to farming in this work! I also enjoyed The Rise of Rome by Everitt. Before long the season will turn and I’ll be in the field. Looking to answer more questions.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 05:03 PM EST
On Friday I left school and headed to the farm for a late fall harvest. For the last several years I’ve kept busy during the slower season by working as a Substitute Teacher. Being a Sub isn’t quite the same as being a full-time teacher. It’s a fill-in role that has fewer responsibilities than teachers have. Being with the young people that are part of our communities and around teachers has been a great experience. It has built a sense of hope that an honored form of continuity is being instilled for the future.
Harvest was better than I would normally do this time of year. There was plenty of Kale and Brussels Sprouts and a few root vegetables, but also nice Broccoli, Collards, Cilantro, Purple Pac Choi, Cabbages, and Leeks. I arrived in the field with almost an hour and a half of daylight and left with the sun having set and a beautiful sunset waning to twilight. The day had been mild, in the upper 40’s with light winds, so I worked in comfort.
A Harvest this close to the Winter Solstice has never been so nice. Certainly the mild fall has contributed with no lows below 20 degrees and no extended cold spells. Precipitation has been sparse but enough for healthy plants. It seems almost like a bonus to have a harvest like this shortly before the holidays. I only slipped on gloves in the last half hour because it was warm enough to do without till then.
After a good day in school and a nice harvest I heard the news of the day. DEVASTATING! I have few words…. As a parent…as a Sub in my local schools…
Later that evening my daughter asked when would our pizza be out of the oven? She was hungry, really hungry! All I could say was that I was sorry that dinner was late, I was upset about all the kids being killed…
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:29 AM EST
Farming at Tillers International has worked out wonderfully. As I plan for the 2013 season I’m thrilled to offer CSA. Below is some information from our CSA brochure and about what we plan for the coming season. If you have interest in becoming a member/shareholder contact me or leave a comment (email me, agropraxisfarm at gmail dot com).
When thinking of a CSA name I had several things in mind. First I wanted to keep the farm and the CSA distinct. Many farms brand themselves and want to keep their marketing uniform. This CSA will be more than the typical marketing of produce that CSA seems to have become. Secondly, our relationship with Tillers International is important. Their mission to teach and support sustainable communities that teach low capital technologies is in harmony with our efforts. And lastly, our unbending recognition of nature as mentor. Being in tune with the forces and principles that guide all life is fundamental. So names were proposed and altered or dropped. Finally, in a discussion at Market a good customer used the word “Harmony”. I don’t remember the context but the word suddenly took meaning. I really like all of the positive images that the name conjures and we adopted the name, Harmony Acres CSA.
From the CSA brochure: “Harmony Acres CSA(HACSA) was started by the Agropraxis Farm and its organic farmer Pete Robertson. The concept of CSA is to create a Community that supports the farm and benefits from a close relationship. Many CSA’s have been started by farmers as part of a marketing plan, or by organizations that seek to benefit financially from starting CSA. HACSA will be established as a “True CSA” that involves its members in decision making, work and benefits of the farm. A Core Group of members will direct HACSA and provide the foundation for development and direction of the CSA.
Agropraxis Farm is a continuing organic farm operation that located to Tillers International in 2012. Pete Robertson began growing for market in 2006 using over 25 years of organic gardening knowledge. With CSA experience that includes producing for a 100 member SW Michigan CSA this farm is being developed to support a growing community of consumers that value a direct relationship with a farm. “
“Reasons to Join:
-Receive more fresh produce for your dollar
-Dollars go directly to the farmers
-The freshest possible food weekly
-Fewer trips to the store
-Wider selection of local produce
-No residual chemicals on food
-Organic food with high nutrient density
-Connection to the growing local foods movement
-Share info, recipes, tips
-Weekly newsletter (With share)
-Access to your local farm!
-Low carbon input farming!
-Special events, dinners, day on the farm
-Support for those maintaining our farm traditions
-Keeping your dollars local!
-Education of future food producers
-Farm to table in under 6 hours!
-Varieties that show the broad scope of foods available outside of regular food channels
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 09:25 AM EST
On the farm the late fall crops are doing well. A great harvest of leeks, Brussels sprouts, rutabegas, radicchio, broccoli, and kale was done. I also I harvested a nice crop of collards. Maybe it’s a Michigan thing (or a white, Michigan thing), but collards are not real common here. This was a demo crop and I honestly had never eaten them or grown them before. I never had a CSA member ask for them or had someone at market inquire. But, they seem to be really popular in some regions and referred to favorably in cooking magazines. So they went in. They were largely neglected through the summer. Some were taken to market but drew little interest. They looked super the other week so I harvested and cooked them for my first try…and was blown away! So that’s what I’ve been missing! What flavor and texture. Even the picky-eater in the house took seconds. So simple and so good! They earned a spot on the farm for the coming years. We’ll have Kale and collards for late greens from now on.
I took time to read a farming magazine and ran across an appropriate description of what it’s like to farm compared to typical businesses. “…the difference in magnitude and importance of the problems between managing a business unit versus managing a farm….It sort of puts those petty office problems into perspective. On a farm if you miss something, you miss it for a year….In business if you miss a deadline or something doesn’t work out right…it’s so easy to correct…and go on....with farming you’re so much more aware of what’s not in your control; whereas in business you get this warped sense of it’s all in my control…In farming you do have some influence, but so much of it is nature.” (Acres USA, Dec 2012 Womack pg. 55…)
The lack of understanding of the challenges that farmers face gets a broad range of responses. Customers don’t lose any money when a celery crop fails due to unfavorable hot, droughty conditions. They buy conventional celery with its inferior taste. Early beets may be killed by a late hard freeze and hours of work go unrewarded. Working with nature is a humbling and unpredictable experience. As the article detailed, it has a magnitude associated with its problems that few appreciate.
One farming job I had was a nightmare. A “plan” was created and a farmer hired to implement the plan (me). The plan was grossly unrealistic but being a farmer and hoping that the plan makers understood a little about the difficulty of farming to a rigid plan, I took the risk of trying to fulfill the plan. In an ideal situation the plan might have had a chance. With a challenging weather year and personnel scenario the problems were insurmountable and the plan was unachievable. The business decided to try another farmer (only to experience the same outcome) and is again looking for another farmer to assume the risk. The article brought to mind the differences and failings of thinking and working with nature as though it fit into a plan. The mentality of a farmer is to keep planting and working so that short term problems are minimized and long term benefits of the work are realized. Having to work to a plan is loaded with stress and quickly results in insurmountable animosity. Only a farmer seems to sense the difficulties or understand the problems and their magnitude.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:15 AM EST
Our family has typically cut a live tree for Christmas each year. With the oldest home from College for Thanksgiving and being a child that loves our simple family traditions she was all in for cutting now rather than waiting for a week and miss out. So we loaded up and headed to our favorite Tree Farm. We visit the same farm because of the horse drawn wagons that deliver and pick-up the guests and their trees from the different tree lots. A team of big Belgians draw a tandem set of wagons. The first with padded bench seats and the second for a load of fresh cut trees. You can choose from the popular Scotch Pine, Spruce, White Pine (Our beloved state tree), or the now popular Fraser Fir. Our refined process requires looking over all the likely trees, having someone reject it (selected on a unanimous vote) then moving on. Eventually we return to reconsider every tree. After much tromping, joke making, “Do you remember when…” and wearing down all collective resistance a final selection is made. Often the first tree that the youngest member of the group first considered.
The cut tree and selection team is returned to the farmstead. In the old tool shed a wood stove helps return normal blood flow to the toes and fingers. Candy canes are offered. Trees are shaken of their loose needles and bird nests, then wrapped and loaded for the trip home. Conversation comes easily with the farm folk that run the tree farm. They shared a concern for the coming years. The drought impacted their tree planting. It also stressed the 2-6 year old trees severely. Only time will tell what true impact the drought will have. “We’ll know for sure in 6-7 years”, they said.
The teamster on our wagon was happy to talk when I shared my connection to working animals. The big mare on our team was 13 years old and had been a help in training a lot of her offspring. They keep a dozen animals. They started with Amish trained stock but now breed, train and sell their own. The animals do a long day when it’s their turn. Working from 8 am till after 6 pm. The worst are the warm and muddy days. It really makes them work hard.
At home the tree was decorated and is now the beautiful focal point of a continuing family tradition. After the holidays it will be placed near the kitchen garden and bird feeders for animal habitat. Eventually it will be chopped down and added to the compost pile.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:10 AM EST
The seed catalogs have begun to arrive. Time to consider “new” varieties for demos , check prices, and complete orders. Orders are in before the New Year. Over time I’ve learned to evaluate seed costs carefully. One seed supplier may pack small volumes at what appears to be good prices. When broken down to a cost per seed there may be notable differences in prices. Calculating the amount of seed and the cost (including shipping…) is a late fall job. When done well costs are minimized and planning for the season follows.
My preferred suppliers provide ample information to make clear evaluations. For example Johnny’s has a cost chart for Bush Beans. It makes easy reference. Jade beans are $3.45 for a packet (175 seeds) of .0197 cents/seed and .0066/seed if 1000 are purchased. 175 seeds plants ~25’ . If you plan 400’ you’d need 16 packets and cost $55.20. Or by bulk you’d need 2.28 pounds and you’d pay $25.00 with some left over at a cost per seed of .0058. Comparing between seed suppliers often shows dramatic cost differences. One supplier may have the best prices in pepper seeds then be dramatically different in carrot seeds. All fun with numbers!
One point that often makes evaluation a bit cumbersome is when suppliers mix grams and ounces of seed within a catalog. Seed sellers must copy into their catalogs the information from sources. Many suppliers probably use the metric measurements while domestic ones are in ounces. The cost per seed calculation remains similar but a few more steps to accurately order the correct quantity.
Some catalogs are fun to leaf through and enjoy the pictures and side bar information. The pictures of ideal and beautiful crops is nice eye candy. Some catalogs I read. Like Fedco’s always enjoyable catalog. Social commentary and realistic descriptions. No pictures in their catalog. I usually end up ordering from a handful of reliable suppliers that carry the varieties I trust and have the customer support needed .
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 09:38 AM EST
There remain a lot of little jobs and tasks to do at the end of a season. They are not the physically demanding ones or dependent on appropriate weather. Rather they are little ones like sorting and cleaning saved seed or working through the seed storage to inventory what’s on hand and what I need to buy, or seek from other seed savers. It seems this transition of one year to the next is a perfect time to do simple tasks and reflect on the past growing season.
I buy a lot of seed and I save a lot of seed. I’m an enthusiastic seed saver. I’ve found that many seeds are so much more vigorous with hardy plants when they are from my own farm. I had some overwintered Russian Red Kale that I let bolt and mature a seed crop. The task of saving the seed was a fairly simple one. Letting the seed pods mature, collecting and drying the pods, then cleaning and storing the seed. I have so much that we often sprout some to add to salads.
As the seasons have added up, the efforts to save and select quality seed has increased. I like to use “open pollinated” varieties whenever I can. This season offers a classic example of selecting and cultivating open pollinated tomatoes. I demoed a variety of round red tomatoes (Bobcat) for market. It was an F1 hybrid. It developed plenty of fruit on a short compact plant. They were round, red and sold well. They excelled in appearance but lacked flavor; rather bland. The wet, humid August and early Sept. saw the Hybrid succumb to leaf diseases first among all the tomato varieties. It’s supposed resistance and vigor not matching the open pollinated heirlooms that thrived into October. It’s not the first time that “superior” hybrids conked out before trusted heirlooms.
I’m by no means a super saver. I save seed from easy seed producing crops. This season I saved brassicas like Pac choi , radishes and kales. Lots of tomato, legumes, and squash varieties as well. Some seed like my favorite carrots and lettuces I buy. The beds for these crops are often planned for 2-3 crops in a season and setting a portion aside to raise seed isn’t always practical. In some years the crop fails to thrive and saving seed is not realistic. The last several years have been tough on a pea crops. So letting them mature a seed crop has been neglected.
The vigor and adaptation of Open Pollinated vegetable crops is my reason for saving the seed. It is why I spend time to raise and save seed. And why there are still little tasks left as the season concludes.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 08:00 AM EST
The first crop was planted for the 2013 season this past week. I put in two varieties of hardneck garlic. On the day I did it I expected to get it in with little trouble. Of course the ground was frozen from a hard frost and I had to wait several hours for it to warm. Our light friable soil usually allows easy work but I had trouble with my standard methods and had to resort to using a dibble. It took a bit of time but no way would I resort to compacting the soil with other machine work methods.
It was such a beautiful fall day. A bit of sun, light winds and eventually temperatures in the mid 40’s. While the temperatures were slowly working up I went about the fall harvest. The broccoli and other cole crops have been heavy producers. I quickly filled all of the harvest containers and had to scrounge around for more. Radicchio, lettuces, kale, leeks, napa cabbage, bull’s blood beets, rutabegas and some dry beans were all beautiful. I was pleased to see decent spinach. I love cooking the spinach with some garlic, onions and tomatoes to make a sauce for spinach pizza. I had the harvest done and took time to have lunch before I started in on the garlic.
The opportunity to watch the natural activity on the farm is what a lunch break is for me. This day I saw the energetic activity of finches and bluebirds. The sandhill cranes that raised their young in the pastures were not around. They probably moved on to the big collecting areas that the cranes seem to use before moving south for the bitter portion of winter. I have noticed groups of 70-100 cranes collecting to feed. Kind of like other animals that gather and gossip or spread news of the past few months.
The air was scented with ruminant manures. The Tiller’s staff and interns had windrowed all of the seasons manures adjacent to the vegetable field. They’ll cook and decompose to a beautiful compost for application through-out the farm. With addition of field waste, we are able to return to the soil a lot of what began here. Part of feeding and supporting our soil and building fertility. Ruminant manures may be nasty to some. To farmers that feed our soils, they are food for the microbes and valued for what they contribute to the farm. The mild odor is nothing like the noxious swine or poultry manures that can make your eyes water. I just have to be careful to keep it out of the house…
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 09:16 AM EST
Working the soil through planting seed, amending and transplanting provided more information on soil health and fertility. The friable crumb made it a easy to work. Little need for heavy equipment or overly strenuous efforts. Setting out transplants went as quick as ever. Early season soil moisture and precipitation were all excellent and weather permitted the soil to warm earlier than typical. Early crops were up and thriving by mid-April. Time would tell what quality and production levels would be like.
An early harvest of radishes, asian greens and lettuces bolstered hopes. Observations of plant vigor showed outstanding leaf and plant development. Few pest issues were observed and full vigorous stands filled the rows. At market time the product looked great. A few crops were the best I have ever raised. (That’s over 25 years of growing!) Transplants thrived and direct seed crops were thinned to healthy, vigorous stands. An advisor suggested great weather conditions. Yes, they were outstanding, but that is only one factor in producing top quality produce.
More information started to accumulate. Tomatoes were trellised earlier than usual. Growth on the plants was 6-8” every few days. They were not boosted with a fertilizer to achieve that kind of growth. Only a fertility mix of bean meal, bone meal and kelp with oyster shell was added at transplant time. The plants were watered in with a 10:1 addition of rain water and compost tea. These are typical measures used for years. Late spring growth was excellent. Harvests continued to be above average.
We began to fall behind in precipitation in May. Here in Michigan it's not uncommon to go a few weeks with below average rainfall. With our sandy soils we are well versed in maintaining ideal soil moisture for plant growth. A conventional farmer will add the1”/week that is needed. As a more thoughtful farmer, I’ve felt that when subsoil moisture levels are adequate, the plant will do much better in developing root/microbial symbiosis than simply poring on H2O for growth needs. So we kept adequate moisture and mulched a lot of our sensitive crops with spent hay and straw. By mid-June we added above normal temperature to the below normal moisture. As the drought began to unfold and the media alarmed the public, a lot of questions came from market customers. With adequate soil fertility I was only concerned about late season crops not so much about warm weather crops. We did enter a period of declining production. Mostly from heat stress rather than water shortages. Tomatoes and squashes often aborted fruit in the hot weather. What we were harvesting was of exceptional quality. Great tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. The customers were buying me out at market weekly. Comments about the best beets ever or the tastiest tomatoes in years were typical. We did have a few failures when seeding late summer crops. Carrots, beets and turnips were disappointing. The other problem we faced was small mammal pressure during the last weeks of the drought. With little else for them to eat, the garden crops became an oasis for any nearby coon, possum, rabbit or woodchuck.
As rains returned in August, the garden responded with a bounty that is still to be fully dealt with. Production was beyond anything experienced. The early plant development before the drought and solid fundamental farming practices allowed the plants to withstand the drought and benefit from good late season conditions. Only through good soil fertility and good farming were the results achieved. Stories of failures and disappointments circulate after an event like our mild drought. I had found in the event, confirmation that fundamental organic farming is a key component to producing great food when done on fertile, biologically active soil.
In conclusion, I am thrilled to be able to work such wonderful land at Tiller’s International. I look forward to years of developing the farm, a community of supporters and sharing the opportunities with others.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:30 AM EDT
At this time a year ago I dug a hand into the field that became our vegetable plot. I knew the field had been in conventional grain and dairy production for decades, but the last 8+ years was in rotational pasture. A new place to farm presents many potential issues. From depleted soil and persistent weeds to low microbial activity. As we approach seasons end a review of production and some observations is appropriate.
Curiosity had me check the USGS info available at the library and online. It described a level field with sandy-loam topsoil. It also had a deep sandy subsoil that provides excellent drainage. In this area many fields are left bare for the majority of the year. With such light soils, erosion has left little topsoil. Many farm the remaining sandy subsoil. Conventional tillage with little returned to the soil in the form of cover cropping or composts leaves organic matter often below 2%. My first handful of soil revealed a medium brown color, indicating moderate organic matter, a pleasant smell and nice friable texture. A nice first impression.
A common tool for soil evaluation is a soil sample test. This scientific method test looks at macro/micro-nutrients levels. A broad range of tests can be paid for from $15.-300.00+ per sample. An alternative for intensive vegetable farmers is close evaluation and observation. By looking at what is growing on the land a fair review can be made that is as accurate as many a soil sample test. Our field showed a broad range of pasture plants that were evenly distributed throughout the field. No areas were infested with invasive pest species. The mix of forages included legumes, grasses and other perennials that were vigorous and healthy. This indicated good fertility, high microbial activity and a fairly uniform soil type throughout the field.
The use of soil building, organic farming methods is a key to maintaining and improving fertility. We compost all farm waste and return it to the land. We utilize cover crops, mulch and continuously add carbon rich material to the soil to feed the soil food web. The foundation of farming practices is supplemented with compost teas and mineral fertilization. Attention and effort is also made for even minor improvements. The sum of 1% improvements may seem insignificant, but the cumulative impact of a series of 1% measures becomes significant over time.
Early in the year the land was plowed with oxen and horses. This turned under the thick pasture. Newly plowed land often exhibits excellent fertility as a mass extinction of soil microbes releases masses of nutrients. Farming practices have to work with this understanding and plan for a drop in fertility if supportive measures aren't in place. As the year has progressed, the initial positive first impression have been supported by excellent production.
Next week a review of field production and some observations...
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:11 AM EDT
That is what I think about when politics come to mind. The return to money and power politics of the Gilded Era. When a handful of influential puppeteers pull the strings and the sordid masses, glued to their technology, do nothing but complain.
As a food producer I try and think how the government has helped over the last several years. There was the egg scare a few years ago that allowed us with small flocks to make a bit of money. Of course it was a failure of the regulators that....Then there was pink slime...and the salmonella in cantaloupes,....and the spinach recall.... and you start to see what a failed system looks like. For those of us that care about our food we make informed choices. But so many people leave the responsibility for safe food to the government. They have been let down by a failed system.
As we wind up for the impending election I am disappointed by the lack of attention to many things that matter. Will we find a way to address climate change? Politics has managed to largely ignore it for decades. Will the Sick-care system we have continue to be dictated by for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations? Will the agri-industry continue to be pulled like a bull with a nose ring by a few chemical/seed vendors... I find it hard to be anything but cynical. But, I will vote and continue to expect for better than we have had.
Now that that is out of my system, what a weird and wonderful few days it has been. Rain, wind, warmth and the animal world is bonkers. A leopard frog visited the garden just recently. Not so weird you think till I tell you that the nearest standing water is over 300 yds. from the field. A road and pasture are barriers of a sort for the frog. I moved a squash plant and out sprang the frog. I think we were both surprised. Then a never before seen cat was curled up on a pile of burlap in the garden shed. It was a bit put out when I shooed it out and fastened the door. It's welcome to mouse and vole though I think the barn is a better place for a farm cat! The migratory birds have been much in evidence. Sandhill cranes feed in the pasture daily. They'll be leaving about the time the ground freezes up. As long as food is around they like to hang-out but leave when it turns nasty .Magnolia, Palm and Yellowthroated Warblers along with Kinglets were around. Chipmunks have been in a frenzy. Doing whatever last minute detail needs to be finished. I think they are about as ADD as a group of 3rd graders after too much Mt. Dew. Feeling a bit like the chipmunks I have been finishing in the fields. A few more days, then the garllc and it'll be time to hibernate...haha!
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 01:19 PM EDT
Recently the family was eating. Our family now includes a German Exchange student. She was commenting about the director of the fall drama that she is a cast member of, "He is such a Man!" I casually asked what she meant by that...and we learned that in her understanding of the sexes, men are unorganized and lack attention to details. Hmmmm,....as Artie Johnson always responded on Laugh-In, "Interesting".
The irony didn't escape me. She had earlier commented about how delicious all the food was. The food was typical of early fall suppers. It was composed of things from our efforts on the farm. Things that took months from planning, planting, tending, tilling to harvesting. Then the prep and cooking of dinner. Several wonderfully delicious dishes. The plate was cleaned and seconds added...mmmmmgood! Hey, weren't these all done by a....MAN? How could it be? Unorganized and lacking attention to details? I see we have some work to do with people making generalizations. Good for an inner chuckle!!!
On the farm I revel as the seasons change. BIrds are flocking, colors beginning to change, and the cool weather ends the bounty of hot weather crops. The birds wear their their fall plumage. A second look is often needed to tell which type of bird is feasting on late season bugs in the garden. The sparrows have been joined by finches and bluebirds. All are welcome. The recently sown cover crops have pushed out of the ground and look like a green haze over the field, or a green shadow. A brief void is now filled, just as nature would do. Debris is removed from other beds and compost added in the ever revolving cycle of plant-reap-renew! Soon the season will swing to the quiet of the cold season. Time to prepare for what follows.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:16 AM EDT
Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader
A year ago I was looking for a place to farm. Finding and staying on good vegetable growing land has been a challenge. I had had a conversation with Lori Evesque from Tiller's International about some initiatives that they had begun looking into. I knew Lori from Farmers Market and the SW Michigan Harvest Fest. Tiller's wanted to expand their utilization of their lands to include some vegetable growing and farming businesses and move toward educating and supporting new farmers. To do this within their Mission and framework required someone compatible and willing to look at this with a patient and long term view. We began discussions last fall. I had found a new place to begin. Over the winter a working model was developed. In a cooperative manner we work toward our goals and benefit from a wonderfully supportive community.
Tillable farmland in our area of Michigan has been in use for up to 150 years. Predominately sands and sandy/loams many farm fields have lost most of their topsoil and now till subsoil. Soil depletion and continuing degradation renders most conventional farmland undesirable for intensive vegetable production. Other areas are intensively managed for fruit production and use conventional methods. Again, not desirable for organic farming. Over the years I have been fortunate to find land to work. For years at a Bed & Breakfast, and for a short spell at a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). I had spent time searching for land I could purchase, but the numbers were never favorable. Farming with a huge debt burden is not a desirable situation.
Tiller's International has been at their current location for quite some time. Though much of the land was in conventional farming for decades, the restorative powers of rotational grazing and proper management is evident. A complex mix of forages that includes plenty of perennials and sufficient organic matter in the soil is a building block for developing intensive vegetable growing. An initial segment of land for farming was readied in the spring of 2012. In keeping with Tiller's methods this was done with animal power and low carbon inputs.
The results have been encouraging. A broad spectrum of vegetables were raised. Much of the effort was to plan for and develop market farming abilities and support the development of CSA (beginning in 2013) and roadside farm stand. Growing good vegetables that are high quality and nutritious requires superior fertility and farm practices. Experience and the right tools and infrastructure are necessary for this to succeed. Combining the farmer with Tiller's organization has been a key to achieving what we have so far. A portion of the production was marketed at the nearby Vicksburg Farmers Market. Within a few months the farm model has a strong following at the market. High quality produce draws and makes for loyal customers.
Tiller's provided the land, a well, storage structures, equipment, built fences, completed initial tillage, supplied compostable animal manures and spent forages, and a network of supportive individuals. I added my tools and materials for this seasons growing and labor. The results have been beyond my expectations.
The foundation of good growing is good soil. What I have to work with is a friable sandy-loam, with high biological activity good nutrient availability and excellent drainage. The basics can be improved, but a depleted soil would never have supported what I tried this year. Right from the beginning I knew I was on good land. The life in the soil was clearly evident and early crops produced yields as good as I have ever had. Each plant has a range of potential developments. Optimal conditions will allow a plant to develop a maximum if it has all the elements needed. I felt that many crops this spring grew to maximum genetic capabilities. I was so excited to grow produce in such a setting. As the season progressed my early delight was confirmed time and again. The drought stressed the crops. Years of experience helped in keeping the plants alive. But, experience is only a part of dealing with a drought. The soil is the biggest part. It retained moisture and supplied nutrients that kept the plants thriving. Following the dry months the production and quality has been amazing. I have grown some of the best crops ever. Great soil with amazing capabilities.
Concluding this year has us planning for coming developments. Part of what we are working toward is a setting that encourages other individuals to succeed as I have begun to. Incubator farms are beginning to provide the resources for the development of a new generation of skilled farmers. Farmers capable of dealing with climate variability, high fuel costs, and input scarcities. Those who are able to build ecologically sustainable farms that are economically viable.
This is an exciting project for Tiller's International and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. We need efforts like this...we need your support!
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 11:13 AM EDT