Agropraxis Farm

  (Scotts, Michigan)
A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
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Review Continued

Part II:
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. 
Farmer Pete 

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Reviewing at our soil and farm!

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...

Farmer Pete 

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Failure!

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! 

Farmer Pete

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Irony!

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.

Farmer Pete 

 

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