How Home Gardeners Can Change the Local Food System

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How Home Gardeners Can Change the Local Food System.

home gardenerBy Dr. Mercola

According to a survey by Gardeners’ World magazine,1 80 percent of gardeners reported being happy and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners. This feeling of well being can have other more-far reaching implications for your physical health as well. According to research from Johns Hopkins,2 having a cheerful temperament can significantly reduce your odds of suffering a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.3

When you think about world hunger, do you consider the role you might play with regard to food waste? Therein lies the problem, according to Gary Oppenheimer, creator of AmpleHarvest.org. According to Oppenheimer, the reason we keep spending a lot of time and money trying to feed the hungry without ever resolving the problem is because most approaches fail to address food waste.

Tens of millions of growers throw away food from their gardens while their neighbors go hungry. Likewise, Americans throw away about a pound of food per person per day. In 2008, that equated to about one billion pounds of food per year.

AmpleHarvest.org4 addresses the problem of hunger by providing a whole new supply channel for food that would otherwise go to waste.

Rather than buying and distributing food, the organization connects growers with local food pantries. In this way, food can be more efficiently distributed to those who need it most, while eliminating waste all at the same time. If you’re not a gardener, I would suggest passing this information along to friends and neighbors who do garden, or better yet, your local farmer. In his talk at Google above, Oppenheimer discusses:

  1. Food waste
  2. The impact of food waste
  3. The solution to food waste and hunger
  4. Future developments—combating waste and hunger on an even larger scale

Americans Waste Enormous Amounts of Food

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the US threw away $161 billion-worth of food in 2010. One-third of the food produced in the US simply didn’t get consumed.

In 2012, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) issued a report stating that 40 percent of the food in the US was wasted. This represents about 20 pounds of food per person per month. Not only that, but 32 percent of our available water was also wasted in the process.

Fruit and vegetables account for 14 percent and 19 percent of the waste respectively. In terms of amounts, nearly 18.5 billion pounds of fruit is thrown away annually, along with more than 25 billion pounds of vegetables.

However, these reports did not include home gardeners in their calculations, Oppenheimer notes. According to the National Gardener Association, 35 percent of all households across the US grow their own food, harvesting on average 300 pounds of food per year (compressed into the growing seasons).

Home gardeners also throw away large portions of their harvests. As noted by Oppenheimer, the food waste among home gardeners stem from:

  • Overplanting, thereby producing more than you can actually eat
  • Inability to share the excess with friends or neighbors
  • Not preserving or canning the excess
  • Becoming overwhelmed by the continuous food production; by the end of the season, when plants are still producing food, many will simply toss it into the compost bin or garbage

America Has a Significant Hunger Problem

One in six Americans is “food insecure,” meaning they’re either hungry or at risk of going hungry on a regular basis. One in four American children under the age of six lives in a food insecure home. Among Hispanics, the number is even greater—one in three.

Due to lack of nutrition, these children perform poorly in school, and malnourished adults also perform below par at work. As noted by Oppenheimer, by not nourishing our population, we’re hurting the economy of today and tomorrow.

Health care costs are among the financial factors to be taken into consideration, as poor diets significantly contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and related illnesses.

Our Current Food Distribution System Is at the Heart of the Problem

In his talk, Oppenheimer describes and compares the current food bank distribution system to the system his organization proposes. At present, an organization called Feeding America coordinates about 203 food banks across the nation. These food banks collect and redistribute food to 33,500 different food pantries and food kitchens that feed the needy.

This system works well for processed foods, as they have a long shelf life. The distribution cycle in this system is rather lengthy; it can take days or weeks from food to travel from the food bank to the consumer. Hence, fresh foods are excluded. You simply cannot donate fresh foods as they will rot by the time they reach the soup kitchen.

So, despite the fact that billions of pounds of fresh foods are available, the distribution system simply does not allow those foods to enter the system and reach those who need it the most. Instead, all that fresh nutritious food is tossed into compost heaps or landfills. Meanwhile, the poor end up eating nothing but processed fare, which we know is the root cause of obesity and chronic disease.

Reinventing a More Sustainable Food System to Combat Hunger

Oppenheimer’s idea was to connect the people with too much food in their home gardens with those who really need it. In order to do so, he realized we have to bypass the food bank, and donate the food directly to the local food pantry or soup kitchen.

AmpleHarvest.org works like other search engines. You can search the database to find a local food pantry in the US that has opted in to participate and therefore will accept donations of fresh produce. The software currently does not provide links to food pantries outside the US. This system has a number of beneficial “side effects,” including:

  • A more efficient food system
  • Better nutrition for the underprivileged
  • Community building
  • Beneficial environmental impacts

AmpleHarvest.org launched in 2009, and today has a database of nearly 7,000 participating food pantries across the nation—one out of every five food pantries has signed up. It’s worth noting that the feedback from these food pantries is that fresh foods are overwhelmingly popular. These are the foods that disappear first. A common notion is that people will choose processed foods over fresh foods whenever given the chance, but the reality appears to be quite different.

What Makes AmpleHarvest So Extraordinary?

Oppenheimer’s idea really demonstrates how simple ideas can revolutionize our food system. It doesn’t have to be complicated. On the contrary, its simplicity is its strength. The system is very efficient, as it only moves information, not food, and associated costs are a mere fraction of other national food programs.

It’s also universal in that it can work in any community, large or small. And it works with both home growers and larger farms. It’s also a community builder, which in and of itself has benefits that can hardly be measured in dollars and cents. Last but not least, it directly addresses pressing health concerns; combating childhood obesity and related diseases by improving nutrition. It also benefits the environment.

Next Up: Connecting Farmers with Gleaning Organizations

The AmpleHarvest.org is now bringing this system into the big leagues. GleaningHarvest.org will work to distribute much larger amounts of leftover food from farms across the country. One major source of food waste is cosmetically imperfect fruits and vegetables. These foods are simply thrown away because stores “can’t” sell them. Again, the idea is that consumers demand perfect-looking foods, but even here, old assumptions are being challenged and overturned.

In France, the third-largest supermarket chain Intermarche decided to fight food waste by creating an “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” campaign. Large signs promote “the Grotesque Apple,” “the Ridiculous Potato,” the Hideous Orange,” “the Disfigured Eggplant,” “the Unfortunate Clementine,” and more. These foods are given their own section of the store, and are sold at reduced prices. Lo and behold, these “Failed Lemons” started selling out almost immediately.

GleaningHarvest.org will connect gleaning organizations to farms in the same way AmpleHarvest connects home gardeners with local food pantries. What is “gleaning”? As explained by Food Network:5 “Gleaning is a way of gathering vegetables and fruits in the field that would otherwise be left to rot or be plowed under after harvest. Instead of having this good food go to waste, the gleaning program allows those in need to pick (or glean) the produce in the field for themselves and their family at no cost.”

One Dozen Ways to Eliminate Your Food Waste

Food waste is a reality in most homes. You can drastically reduce the amount of food you toss in the garbage by implementing the following strategies. Please also refer to our previous article about proper food storage and how to keep your food items fresher.

1 Shop Wisely Plan meals, use shopping lists, and avoid impulse buys and “buy one, get one free” deals, unless you’re certain you’ll eat it.
2 Buy Local Locally produced foods are fresher and keep longer, as well as having a smaller ecological footprint.
3 Buy Funny-Looking Fruits and Veggies Buying the “ugly ducklings” of the produce section makes use of food that might otherwise go to waste.
4 Learn When Food Goes Bad Use-by and best-by dates are only manufacturer suggestions and may cause you to discard food when it is still safe and consumable. Many foods are safe and consumable well after their use-by date.
5 Use Your Freezer Freeze fresh produce and leftovers if you won’t have a chance to eat them before they go bad.
6 Vacuum Pack One of my all-time favorite tricks, which works for most produce, is to create a “vacuum pack” to help protect food from oxygen and airborne microbes that will accelerate its decay. Leave the produce in the bag it came in from the grocery store, place it against your chest, and use your arm to squeeze the excess air out of the bag. Then seal it with a twist tie. Or use an automatic vacuum sealer like the FoodSaver.
7 Start Juicing Juicing is an excellent way to use up aging produce while improving your health at the same time. Vegetable juicing also helps with weight management and is a great adjunct to home gardening. You can also compost the pulp.
8 Request Smaller Portions Restaurants will often provide half-portions upon request at reduced prices.
9 Eat Leftovers Only about half of Americans take leftovers home from restaurants and actually eat them. Avoid this kind of waste.
10 Compost Food Scraps Composting food scraps recycles their nutrients and can reduce their ecological impact. It benefits soil, plants, and the greater environment. Composting is not as difficult as you might think. Read all about composting here.
11 Grow Your Own Food Start your own vegetable garden! With the square foot gardening technique, even apartment dwellers can learn a simple technique for growing veggies on a small patio.
12 Donate Food Donate excess food and garden produce to food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, shelters—and your friends and neighbors.

You Can Be Part of the Solution

Food waste has become an enormous problem worldwide, as the latest statistics suggest. Fortunately, you can do a number of things to reduce your own food waste, and if your garden produces more than you know what to do with, you can also be a game changer in your own community by donating your excess harvest to a local food pantry. AmpleHarvest.org’s database will tell you where the nearest food pantry accepting fresh foods is. And, if your local food pantry is not yet in the database, you may want to bring AmpleHarvest to its attention so that they may sign up. Again, if you’re not a gardener, please consider passing this information along to friends and neighbors who garden, and/or your local farmer.

(click the link at the top to read more from mercola.com)

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Grow veggies in a tiny bed

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Grow veggies in a tiny bed – Sunset.

How to grow veggies in 2-4 square feet

 

Tomato, basil, chives, cukes… you can grow a lot in a few square feet

 

Julie Chai

 

 

 

TOMATO

In a sunny 2-foot square bed, tuck a single plant. Try a really prolific variety, such as ‘Sun Gold’, a cherry type, or ‘Early Girl’, a medium slicer. Both thrive nearly everywhere in the West.

+ BASIL

In a 3-foot square bed, grow three basils and a tomato plant. Large-leafed ‘Genovese’ is perfect for making pesto and for pairing with tomatoes and mozzarella in salads.

+ CHIVES & CUKES

In a 4-foot square bed, add a row of chives beyond the basil, then plant a single cucumber vine ― we like sweet, crunchy, disease-resistant ‘Diva’.

(click the link at the top to learn more from Sunset)

5 Great Ideas for a Beautiful Vegetable Garden

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5 Great Ideas for a Beautiful Vegetable Garden: Organic Gardening.

Plan A Beautiful Vegetable Garden

A few simple tips to change the way you think about garden design.

By Jack Staub

When I began my initial foray into the world of vegetables, I was a weekend gardener with limited time and no garden education. My only knowledge of vegetable gardening was definitely of the big-square-plot-of-dirt, row-each-of-tomatoes-beans-lettuces-etc. school of kitchen gardening. That was how I thought all vegetable gardens looked. Big. Plain. Rectangular. Aggressively functional with a nodding proximity to Tobacco Road.

Since then, I’ve learned that this strictly utilitarian model was a 19th-century invention. It developed as people moved away from rural life and home gardens to the cities, as production became centralized on industrial-size farms, and as machines that worked best when moving straight ahead replaced human labor. Then the whole thing got retranslated back to the backyard. The older, far more pleasing, approach, which reigned in backyards across the globe as long ago as the pleasure gardens of Babylon and right up through the 18th century, was based on smaller, more intimate plots, often divided into garden “rooms,” incorporating a scheme of multiple raised beds planted with a diverse mixture of herbs, vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers.

Start with Design
Do you want to create a kitchen garden that’s as beautiful to look at as it is productive? Start by banishing the idea of a single, vast patch of upturned earth with regiment after regiment of linearly disposed vegetables marching across it. Instead embrace the idea of growing vegetables in a decorative, multiple-parterre planting within a fenced or walled space. You have now opened the door to a far more pleasurable experience on every level. More soothing to be in. Far easier to work.

The first step on this journey is to eliminate the prototypical rectangle from your vocabulary and let your mind wander freely over all the other geometric possibilities. Picture an octagonal garden. Or a square one with semicircular island beds, or one further divided into pie-wedged beds, or even a quartet of rooms. How about an enfilade of smaller plots linked by fruit trees trained into arbor form, chaining across a lawn or encircling a central water feature?

Raise your beds
Once you’ve imagined the exterior shape possibilities of your space, consider the dual concepts of “raised” and “multiple” bedding plans as the interior design ideal. Early gardeners, from the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan to the ancient Egyptians to 9th-century Swiss monks, recognized that a bed raised even a scant 6 inches above path level provided infinitely better drainage than a bed built flush with the soil. Gardeners today also find that raised beds heat up faster in spring, adding days (or even weeks) to your growing season. Raised beds allow for far easier soil amendment, too. Build up a bed 12 or 18 inches above path grade, and you can fill it with the ideal mix of topsoil and other amendments. And when the soil is at shin level, weeding and harvesting are less of a strain on your back.

Vegetable gardeners across every continent have learned that beds built no broader than 4 to 5 feet, separated by paths, allow you to reach into the middle of each bed without stepping into it. This keeps you from ranging through your seedlings, compacting the soil and crushing plants underfoot. Moreover, you can work with your feet planted in a nice, clean path rather than in the middle of a muddy bed.

(click the link at the top to read more from Organic Gardening)

Vegetable garden planning: beginning gardening

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Vegetable garden planning: beginning gardening.

The Very Basics

First, here are some very basic concepts on topics you’ll want to explore further as you become a vegetable gardener extraordinaire:

  • Do you have enough sun exposure? Vegetables love the sun. They need at least 6 hours of full sun every day, and preferably 8.
  • Know your soil. Most soil can be enriched with compost and be fine for planting, but some soil needs more help. Vegetables must have good, loamy, well-drained soil. Check with your local nursery or local cooperative extension office about free soil test kits so that you can assess your soil type. See our article on preparing soil for planting.
  • Placement is everything. Avoid planting too near a tree, which will steal nutrients and shade the garden. In addition, a garden too close to the house will help to discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest.
  • Decide between tilling and a raised bed.  If you have poor soil or a bad back, a raised bed built with nonpressure-treated wood offers many benefits. See more about raised garden beds and how to build them.
  • Vegetables need lots of water, at least 1 inch of water a week. See more about when to water vegetables.
  • You’ll need some basic planting tools.  These are the essentials: spade, garden fork, soaking hose, hoe, hand weeder, and wheelbarrow (or bucket) for moving around mulch or soil. It’s worth paying a bit extra for quality tools.
  • Study those seed catalogs and order early.
  • Check your frost dates. Find first and last frost dates in your area and be alert to your local conditions.

Vegetable Garden Planning for Beginners

Deciding How Big

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16×10 feet and features crops that are easy to grow. A plot this size, planted as suggested below, can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra for canning and freezing (or giving away).

Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.

Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season are beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.

Suggested Plants for 11 Rows

The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants but you’ll also want to contract your local cooperative extension to determine what plants grow best in your local area. Think about what you like to eat as well as what’s difficult to find in a grocery store or farmers’ market.

(Note: Link from each vegetable to a free planting and growing guide.)

(Note: If this garden is too large for your needs, you do not have to plant all 11 rows, and you can also make the rows shorter. You can choose the veggies that you’d like to grow!)

When to Plant?

(click the link at the top to read more from The Old Farmer’s Almanac)

Fallscaping in the Garden: National Gardening Association

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Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association.

Fallscaping in the Garden

fallscaping

This autumn portrait celebrates bold orange canna flowers and marigolds surrounding soft, fluffy purple fountain grass and dusty rose coleus. (As seen on National Gardening Association article page.)

We may still be enjoying beach weather in August, but slowly and surely the days are getting shorter, heralding the not-too-distant arrival of autumn and the start of a new gardening season. It’s time to think about some “fallscaping” — integrating perennials, trees, shrubs, tender tropicals, and ornamental grasses along with seasonal plants like mums and ornamental kale for an extended show of color, form, and texture. Fall gardening season extends through September, October, November, and in some areas, even into December. There’s still a lot to enjoy before cold weather closes in!

Choose Perennial Color Echoes
When choosing perennials for late season interest, select ones whose flowers or foliage pick up the autumnal colors of your trees and shrubs, such as the tall daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’ with its yellow-orange flowers . Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), a cloud of golden foliage in the fall, plays well with shrubby, golden-leaved, blue-flowered Sunshine Blue caryopteris (Caryopteris incana
‘Jason’). Euphorbias, Bergenia ‘Cabernet’, new cultivars of Heuchera villosa, and Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ are perennials whose coppery, purple, blue, or rose foliage in fall can complement red maples, beautyberry (Callicarpa), Golden Spirit smoketree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’), or Hypericum calycinum ‘Brigadoon’. Late-blooming, blue-flowering plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) can cover a sunny, dry corner or spill over a rock wall. The elegant scarlet crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is a hardy, late-season gem. With it tall, arching flower clusters, it brightly accents any neighbor, be it orange dahlia, pink or red rose, yellow perennial sunflower, golden black-eyed Susan, or evergreen shrub.

Queen of the Fall Flower Garden
Among late-season bloomers, Japanese anemones are longtime favorites, sometimes referred to as “the queen of the fall garden” for their graceful beauty. Try Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ for pure white blossoms; ‘September Charm’ for pale purple. Combine them with the coppery-purple Actaea (formerly Cimicifuga) simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ with tall, fragrant, white, bottle-brush flowers and coppery-purple foliage.

Tropicals and Grasses Add Interest
Long-lasting tender tropicals like cannas, bananas, and elephant ears bring exotic flowers and foliage to the traditional perennial bed as long as frost holds off. Many annuals, such as marigolds and petunias, also continue blooming until frost. Tall annual and perennial grasses, such as purple fountain grass, ‘Northwind’ switch grass, and big blue stem (Andropogon), have multi-season interest with fluffy, airy, spiky, or feathery seedheads waving above tufts of grass blades from autumn into winter.

Don’t just let your garden fade out as fall approaches. Plan to keep your garden vibrant and colorful through the autumn months with some fallscaping!

(click on the link at the top to read more articles from the National Gardening Association)

 

How to Create an Environment-Friendly Biodynamic Food System

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How to Create an Environment-Friendly Biodynamic Food System.

harvest_basket

By Dr. Mercola

Industrial chemical-based agriculture, which produces the vast majority of US food crops, is actually destroying the soil that makes the growing of food possible in the first place.

This is not true in other countries. Worldwide, 70 percent of the food is grown in backyards or small farms. That number is likely well under two percent in the US. It is my goal to motivate, inspire, and encourage tens of millions of people to start growing their own food so we can radically change these numbers.

You likely know I have been active in supporting the labeling of GMOs and I think this is great, but even better would be to eliminate their market and one of the ways we can do this is by growing our own nutrient-dense food in our yards or community gardens.

The featured film, One Man, One Cow, One Planet, presents one inspiring alternative—”A blueprint for a post-industrial future, revealing what an environmentally friendly biodynamic food system capable of feeding everyone could actually look like.”

However, I strongly believe that there are far simpler and less expensive ways that would allow most of you to effortlessly grow your own food. And in the coming years, I will seek to inform you on how to easily and inexpensively do that.

The Drawbacks of Chemical Agriculture Make It Unsustainable

One particularly destructive aspect of industrial agriculture, which for the most part is little more than 50 years old, is the proliferation of genetically engineered (GE) seeds—seeds that, in India, for example, cost farmers up to 400 percent more than conventional seeds, and produce 30 percent less yield…

One 2006 study found that 60 percent of Indian farmers using GE seeds could not recoup their investment, causing more than 250,000 farmers to commit suicide. Many can’t even feed their own families. And yet farmers are increasingly left with few options, as Monsanto and other chemical technology companies are buying up seed companies, effectively eliminating the competition.

Proponents of genetic engineering claim GE seeds is the most effective way to feed the world, by producing plants unnaturally equipped with internally-produced insecticides, or with genes making them resistant to chemical herbicides. Some are advertised as drought resistant, and/or higher yield producing. But, the truth turns out to be quite different.

GE plants produce foreign proteins making them highly allergenic, and more often than not, they actually require more water to thrive, and therefore end up producing less than conventional seeds. In the end, everything and everyone suffer more because of the “chemical marvels” of modern agriculture, and the corporate control of our food supply.

Additionally, the industrial farming practices that use GE seeds waste massive amounts of water and contribute to large losses of our precious topsoil. Simple inexpensive alternatives can virtually eliminate the need for irrigation and create, rather than decimate topsoil.

GE Crops Destroy Soil Fertility—Possibly Irreversibly

As GE plants increasingly take over the major food-producing areas of the world, including the US, China, India, Argentina, and Brazil, reduced soil fertility has a high probability of leading to worldwide famine on a scale never previously seen.

The mechanisms for this loss of soil fertility are just beginning to be understood, and what was recently only theory has inched closer to reality as science shines more light on the consequences of introducing genetically engineered organisms into the soil.

Special genetic elements (vector DNA) are present in all GE plants. This vector DNA enables unrelated microorganism species to mate, but can also be transferred to soil microorganisms.

Soil fertility depends on the presence of a diverse blend of microorganisms, all serving different roles in balancing and optimizing the soil. But when unrelated species mate, the soil ecosystem loses diversity, which is proven to damage fertility.

Until recently, the transfer of genes between GE plants and soil bacteria was only theoretical. However, this mechanism has now been demonstrated by science, and it’s our soil’s worst nightmare. It should be noted that this same process of gene transfer has also been shown to occur in your gastrointestinal tract when you eat GE foods—turning your intestines into a virtual pesticide factory

Biodynamic Farming Benefits Earth and Man

The video features Peter Proctor and Sarvdaman Patel, two biodynamic farmers working in India. Over the past 15 years, Proctor has watched a slow but steady grassroots revolution occur, with biodynamic farms spreading across India’s countryside.

It’s important to realize that the entire food chain is connected, from soil, plant, and insect health, all the way up to animal and ultimately your health. That is why it is so important to pay attention to the details as supporting the diverse set of soil microbes at the bottom of the food chain ultimately supports your health.

Biodynamic farming is a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture that was initially developed by Dr. Rudolf Steiner1 (1861-1925). This approach can provide far superior harvests relative to conventional chemical based agriculture. It provides superior crops both in volume and increased density of nutrients, and biodynamic farms are completely self-sustaining.

Biological gardening has been one of my passions for the past few years, and I have read many books, every issue of ACRES USA for the past few years, and interviewed many experts in this area. So far, I’ve attempted to apply this by converting about 50 percent of the ornamental landscape around my home to an edible landscape.

Over these past few years, I have applied many different strategies to improve plant growth, such as vortexed compost tea, rock dust powders, magnetic structured water, ionized water, biochar, many types of foliar sprays, and ground covers like woodchips.

I really enjoy this challenge as to me it is like a puzzle, and if I solve it there are massive benefits to large numbers of people, not only myself. My three decades of studying health and treating tens of thousands of patients helped provide me with the basic science necessary to understand these systems, which has helped accelerate my solving this puzzle. I have learned that complex and expensive solutions are rarely the foundational answer. Just as in human health, the final answer is actually really simple… And although I haven’t carefully studied biodynamics and read Dr. Steiner’s voluminous work, I believe I’m familiar enough to form a few conclusions

The Importance of No-Till Agriculture

I believe many of the biodynamic farming principles are valid and useful, especially the application of structured water, discussed in the video. However, I firmly believe the vast majority, if not all of the benefits of biodynamic farming, can be achieved far more easily and less expensively. The video is an interesting demonstration of this conclusion. How many of you would have the time out of your day to learn this complex system, and more importantly, apply it?

Additionally, in the featured video, you will see that they are still using the plow, and there is no question in my mind that this is an incorrect and highly counterproductive method. Most experts I know firmly believe no-till agriculture is the best approach. The last thing you want to do is disturb the soil. I believe this is because it disturbs soil microbes, especially the fungi. You might not realize that 70 percent of the soil microbes responsible for plant health and plant communication are fungi, and tilling will disrupt these mycorrhizal fungal filaments.

Wood Chips Is One of the Best Ways to Improve Your Soil Health

I am so grateful to Paul Gautschi, whose video Back to Eden, helped me understand the value of using wood chips. I struggled for years seeking to unlock the puzzle of growing nutrient dense food that reaches its maximum genetic potential before his recommendations. The simplicity and low cost were massively appealing for me. When I studied it more carefully, I realized it was the single best way to optimize soil microbiology with very little effort.

Most anyone would agree that wood chips are useful for gardening. But it has been my experience that large numbers, perhaps even the majority, don’t understand how to use them properly. They believe, as the video shows, that they need to be converted to compost first and then spread into the soil. In my mind, this is an enormous waste of effort for less than optimal results.

I still need to research this, but my initial analysis suggests far more greenhouse gases, like CO2 and methane are released when chips are composted than when they are used as ground cover. I love Paul Gautschi’s take on this as it is loaded with common sense. Paul replicates what occurs in nature, which doesn’t make compost piles, but degrades the ground cover of leaves, twigs, and stems slowly over time.

It seems obvious to me that this is precisely what the type of environments that soil microbes are adapted to. The key here is to create stable carbon complexes. Biochar is certainly one way to do that as it will last in the soil for centuries, but you can actually create something similar for far less time and money with woodchips. The chips and leaves gradually break down and are digested and redigested by a wide variety of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes in the soil. Once the carbon can’t be digested anymore, it forms humates that last in the soil for centuries and provide a host of benefits that I will describe below.

Benefits of Woodchips

One of the foundational principles of biological gardening and farming is to not till the soil as it will massively disrupt the soil microbes. This is precisely what woodchips will allow you to do. After a few short months you will develop lush soil underneath the chips that will happily support food or trees that you would like to grow. The longer you leave the chips on, and the deeper you put on the wood chips, the deeper the topsoil will be.

A major reason why most people don’t want to garden is they abhor the weeding chores that can easily overwhelm your plants. Woodchips will radically reduce your weeding, probably by over 90 percent, and the weeds that do grow are easily pulled out by their roots so it becomes relatively effortless to keep the area clean.

As you know, many parts of the country are challenged with droughts and may not get more than 10-20 inches of water a year. Woodchips are the perfect solution as they will eliminate water evaporation from the soil, but better yet, at night they will grab moisture from the air and release it into the soil in the day when the soil needs it. Paul Gautschi only gets 12 inches of rain a year and hasn’t irrigated his orchard or vegetable garden for over a decade, yet grows incredible juicy fruits and vegetables.

Another major benefit is the elimination of fertilizers. One of the reasons why industrial agriculture is so damaging is their use of chemical salts that decimate the soil microbes. When you use chips you not only radically increase the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, but chips are essentially an earthworm magnet. You might be aware that earthworms create vermicompost, one of the best composts on the planet.

I believe the mistake most people make with vermicompost is to purchase it or create it by establishing earthworm farms. Then they have to spend loads of time collecting and spreading it. It is far more efficient to feed the worms that are already in your soil and they love woodchips and leaves and rapidly reproduce. You can easily create many tons of free compost every year right where you need it most, under your plants, with no effort on your part. It is even possible to create a thousand tons of worm castings every year in particularly nutrient-rich soils, like around the Nile.

You can eliminate expensive soil testing as it is simply unnecessary when you use chips. Most tests are seriously antiquated as they have no measure of the quality of the soil microbes. They are artifacts of an ancient era when farming was thought to be a chemical experiment. Woodchips will normalize whatever soil you have. Paul Gautschi shares his results that someone did for him after using woodchips for decades and most of his nutrient levels were literally 10 times higher than the great levels, and he never added any fertilizers.

Finally, woodchips serve as a great insulation blanket for your soil and moderates the temperatures in the summer and the winter. When you have a foot to two foot blanket of chips over your plants, the soil will be highly unlikely to freeze in the winter and damage your plants. In the hot summer months, it keeps the soil cooler so the roots can work more efficiently with the soil microbes.

(click the link at the top to read the full article)

Cover Cropping Basics: How to grow cover crops

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Cover Cropping Basics: How to grow cover crops: Organic Gardening. (click to read the full article)

Cover Crop Basics

Plant “green manure” this fall, and your garden will be more productive and healthier next season.

By Erika Jensen

Buckwheat makes an excellent cover cropThe Easiest Cover Crops
Which cover crop is right for you? “You have to keep in mind the time of year and the species you are growing,” says Diver. Some, such as cereal rye, are very cold-tolerant and work well for late-season plantings. Others, such as buckwheat, are very frost-tender. The cover crops listed here are widely adapted and can be grown in most areas of the United States, either as a summer or winter cover crop, depending on where you live.

Rye. This crop comes in two different types: annual rye and cereal rye. Both have their advantages. Sow cereal rye during the late summer or early fall, and it will grow until late in fall and resume growing in spring. With annual rye, which winterkills in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 and colder, you’ll be able to plant your garden earlier, since you won’t have to turn the cover crop into the soil and then wait 3 weeks as you would with a perennial cover crop.

Field peas/oats. This dynamic duo combines the benefits of a legume (peas) that fixes nitrogen and a grain (oats) that contributes plenty of organic matter. And the plants have complementary growth habit—the peas climb right up the oats. Both crops are cold-tolerant, which makes this a good mixture to plant in late summer or early fall. In colder climates, they will also winterkill, allowing an early spring start.

Sorghum-sudangrass. As its name suggests, this grass is a cross between sorghum and sudangrass. This hybrid generates large amounts of organic matter and needs little encouragement to grow 5 to 12 feet tall. You can keep this frost-tender plant in check by mowing it down to 6 inches when it reaches a height of 3 feet or by planting it just 7 weeks before frost.

Buckwheat. It’s not wheat, and it’s not a Little Rascals character! Buckwheat is a broadleaf plant and an excellent smother crop—it’s effective even against weeds like quackgrass. “Buckwheat is very fast-growing and can provide a quick canopy to shade weeds. Just be careful to not let it go to seed, or you’ll have buckwheat in your next crop,” says Creamer. It matures in just 6 to 8 weeks and can be squeezed in between spring and fall vegetable plantings. Buckwheat’s white flowers serve two purposes—they work well as a filler for flower arrangements, and they attract beneficial insects.

Clover. Clover comes in a plethora of different shapes and sizes. White Dutch clover works well as a living mulch, since it tolerates both shade and traffic. Yellow blossom sweet clover is an excellent nutrient scavenger and helps build good soil structure. Crimson clover attracts beneficials and looks great, too. Whatever the color, clover fixes nitrogen and helps to build rich soils. For best results, make sure you inoculate your clover seed with Rhizobium bacteria (available from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, 888-784-1722, www.groworganic.com).

SOURCES The one drawback of cover-cropping for gardeners is that you may pay premiums for seed in small packages rather than a farmer’s bulk seed prices. Check with your local farm supply store for seed—they may be willing to order varieties they don’t normally carry. The following are mail-order sources for untreated and certified organic cover crop seed: Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, Grass Valley, CA, 888-784-1722; Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Winslow, ME, 877-564-6697; Seven Springs Farm, Check, VA, 540-651-3228