Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eliot Coleman on Industrial Ag

"When soil is used to produce at it's full potential, the soil on our own farms can provide everything we need in a low work system by taking advantage of the synergy inherent in all the diverse pieces of the biology at our disposal. A fertile soil has the power to make the small farm ever more independent of purchased inputs, and ever more independent of the corporate industrial world. But the obvious question is this: If these systems work so well now, and were so clear to our predecessors, why has grass farming had to be rediscovered? Why have the benefits of organic matter and compost and crop rotation and mixed farming had to be rediscovered? Why have we never heard of movable greenhouses, they were devised 100 years ago.

"Logically, in a corporate-dominated world, any idea that leads to empowering the independence of individuals gets dismissed, gets overpowered by propaganda that typically derides such ideas as old-fashioned, outmoded, and unworthy of the modern way of life. If people know these things, and begin to farm this way, and can feed themselves, and become autonomous and independent, and can produce exceptional and unique food of high quality that attracts customers, but its production techniques can't be cheaply copied by industrial methods, this is dangerous competition to the bigger-is-better world."
From this podcast of an Eliot Coleman talk.

Eliot Coleman: Educational Agriculture

Article from the Vermont Commons website.

"Our educators are doing a reasonable job at explaining the intricacies of human society to students in lab and classroom, but they are neglecting to make them aware of the web of life in field and garden. If we wish to teach reverence for the earth, we need to insist that practical time spent on the soils of a farm is just as valuable in training citizens for an informed life in the 21st century as time spent studying chalk-filled blackboards in the academy's lecture halls."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Substituting Management for Money

"I was putting more money at risk every year than the potential for profit justified. Any time that you have to come out of pocket with cash in an agricultural situation--almost any situation I can think of but in agriculture it's particularly true because we have control of such a small portion of the factors that affect us--we can't control the market, we can't control the weather, we can't control the political situation--the one thing that we can control is what we spend."

"Modern agriculture is maybe 60 years old--I saw the first nitrogen fertilizer I remember in 1950, maybe 1951... modern agriculture all goes back to nitrogen fertilizer. During that time of modern agriculture we have degraded our soils, we have degraded our food chain, or our people, and we have degraded the financial and mental health of our producers."

"The better job I did of conforming to what the prevaling wisdom said was good management the worse shape I got in financially. I didn't get back into good shape financially until I realized that it's all out there. All you have to do is tailor your management to your environment, and substite management for money."

"It comes back to observation; if you put your finger on it, it comes back to being able to actually see what you're looking at. I think that takes a certain amount of experience, but also it's very easily learned. In my consulting work, the people that pick up fastest on it are women--gals that have no agricultural background whatsoever, but you go on a pasture walk with them and right quick they get it, they understand what we're looking for. They're used to dealing in detail? I don't know, I don't know what the reason is, but I think a part of it is they're not afraid to say I don't know, show me, and a lot of those old boys, well, they'd be burnt with hot irons before they'd admit they didn't understand it."
From this interview with Rancher and Holistic Management Practitioner Walt Davis from

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Further spring planting, seeds are iffy

Today we chopped at the clover more, trying to kill it for good, and then tried to plant among the stringy roots that were left. What a pain in the *ss. We dug a foot of path out about 2 inches down and threw the soil over the beds. Over the entire area we were going to plant (about 120 square feet) we spread about half an inch of compost, 5 lbs of fertilizer (4-6-2), and a couple pints of mixed agricultural lime and dolomite lime (heavy granules vs. powder). [Turns out this is not the difference; dolomite lime has more magnesium and according to the woman at Walt's Organic Fertilizer Co., should only be applied once evey four years.] Over the area that we direct-seeded carrots and beets, we spread 1 or 2 inches of compost to plant the seeds in, then covered them with sifted compost in little trenches. What we planted today:

Broccoli: 4 DiCiccio transplants that I started under lights several weeks ago and have kept out on the deck the last week after hardening off for a week. They were transplanted into potting soil at the same time the lettuce was transplanted into the ground. Today we transplanted them from 2' or 3" pots, having mixed a couple tablespoons of fertilizer into the dirt below their holes. They were planted 2 plants per row, rows 2 feet apart (24 inches on center).

Raab: 4 Sorrento transplants, same story as above.

Mesclun mix: about 8 square feet, direct seeded, scatter-sown.

Carrots: several kinds, several rows, direct seeded. Rows about a foot apart (for all seeded crops).

Beets: Bull's Blood, Early Wonder Tall Top, several rows, direct seeded.

Kale: Russian Red, 3 plants per row, two rows, direct seeded.

Radishes: A long sloppy line poked into the ground at the last moment perpendicular to the lettuce.

We seeded about 10-15 seeds/inch, an accident. Needless to say, we should get a decent number of sprouts despite the tough seeding situation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Growing your own sponges! Luffa.

Here at about 35 minutes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Garden

What's in the ground:

Peas - planted in the ground March 13 or so into sopping wet soil, big trellises built by Mike, fell over in the wind, set up again last weekend. Planted two rows on either side of each flat trellis, about 6" apart, 1" spacing between the peas, about 18" between the double rows.

Mizuna, mustard, spinach, and 3-4 kinds of lettuce - Planted March 20, one perpendicular row each (across the bed), 1' by 1' spacing in a grid; the bed's about 4.5' across, so I planted 5 plants per perpendicular row. These were all started indoors in seed starter mix and transplanted after about 3 weeks. The roots on some of them had gotten a bit long and were coming out the bottom of the flat. I didn't thin them enough so had 2 or 3 starts per cell, probably some transplant shock in separating the roots. I had started using liquid fertilizer on them after they had their little true leaves. Hardened them off in one week, leaving them outside a bit longer each day, though kind of erratically, and leaving them outdoors under a little cold frame cover often.

Broccoli (Di Ciccio) and Raab - Transplanted into Miracle-Gro Moisture Control potting mix, deep 2", 3", and 4" pots, at the same time I planted out the greens.

We've had a tough time chopping in the cover crop of crimson clover. It doesn't die very effectively when chopped in. We're planting among much struggling half-buried greenery.


To put in the ground: beets, carrots, radishes, and more lettuce and greens from seed. Also potatoes from seed potatoes [not put in] and chard from transplants [not put in]. We should also plant Wojtek's strawberry starts, and direct seed some broccoli [didn't happen].

Start indoors: Tomatoes using my saved seed from last year!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Organic vs. Conventional - What the Data Show

From this lecture by John Reganold of WSU at Iowa State in 2009, drawing from hundreds of studies.
"The bottom line from this is that organic farming produces adequate yields of high quality. I don't like it when people say 'Well, organic agriculture can't feed the world.' Guess what: Conventional farming can't feed the world, no-till farming can't feed the world. If I had to pick a system that might be able to feed the world, it might be integrated... People automatically jump from 'Well, you can't feed the world, we'll dismiss that.' You can't do that. Organic agriculture can be a player."
"When we do these kinds of studies--organic, no-till, conventional, whatever--we don't take into account externalities. Oh, you're losing soil. Did you put that into the equation? Someone losing soil, that should be a negative dollar amount. That's an ecosystem service that we don't want to lose. What about if you have phosphorous runoff with erosion? It gets into the rivers, the lakes. Do we account for that? Do we accountt for nitrate leaching? If you take those into account, because the environmental benefits of organic are usually better, it would benefit the organic even more. I haven't seen a study that has done that."
"I was at this wine growers retreat, all the guys were into biodynamic... I remember the last person that spoke got up there, and this is how he started his talk: 'How many out there have a 401k plan for their workers? Raise your hand.' Nobody raised their hand... He said, 'That's what I thought. You do that and you're sustainable.' I was blown away, these people were talking about environmental sustainability, but they're paying their workers crap."