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Composting: Join the Revolution

The so-called brandling or humus worm thrives in litter. They enjoy great popularity among a number of experimentally inclined gardeners. What is so special about these small worms?

My theory is that in worm composting or vermicomposting (Greek vermi: worm), we have something completely new that has little in common with conventional composting, and most importantly is superior to any previous method. The final product, worm castings, which is the term for worm excrement, is not comparable to other types of compost. It represents a new level of quality.

At this point, I want to quote the well-known words of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl: “The crucial thing is what comes out at the end.” This applies to humus worms in both the literal and the metaphorical senses. This “new” method is able to meet the modern demands of nature, environmental, and climate protection much better than any previous approach.

There is an ever-increasing discrepancy between the waste of natural power and resources in conventional composting methods (unavoidable losses in the forms of gases and liquids during hot composting) and the growing need to protect nature and the environment (through sustainable development to curb global warming). A solution is desperately needed. Composting is a part of the battle of opinions between humus management and ecological gardening and farming on the one side and Justus von Liebig’s so-called mineral theory, which serves as the foundation of the chemical industry and conventional agriculture, on the other side. The remainder of this book shall demonstrate the superiority of the former in detail.

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Poisoning Our Children: Pesticide Residues

In December 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent out a news release to all the media outlets in the country about the results of its 2013 Pesticide Data Program (PDP). The headline: “Report confirms that U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based on pesticide residues.”

Poisoning Our Children by André Leu, on pesticide residues

Because people consume a variety of foods, with around 77 percent containing residues of different types of agricultural chemicals, most people consume a chemical concoction.

The news release contained the following statement from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “The newest data from the PDP confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans. EPA remains committed to a rigorous, science-based, and transparent regulatory program for pesticides that continues to protect people’s health and the environment.” So according to the EPA and the USDA, parents should have no concerns because the pesticides in food are safe.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers by scientists and researchers challenge this assertion. So, let’s look at the science to understand why experts have serious concerns about the safety of pesticides.

What Gets Tested?

One of the greatest pesticide myths is that all agricultural poisons are scientifically tested to ensure that they are used safely. According to the United States President’s Cancer Panel (USPCP), this is simply not the case: “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.”

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of chemicals used worldwide have not been subjected to testing. Given that, according to the USPCP, the majority of cancers are caused by environmental exposures, especially exposure to chemicals, this oversight shows a serious level of neglect by regulatory authorities. Continue Reading →

Branching Out: Fruit Tree Grafting

Long ago I witnessed magic. There were no cauldrons or potions, yet it was magic to my young, farmboy mind. It was magic in the form of fruit tree grafting, and though decades have passed it is still just as magical to me.

when grafting a fruit tree, use tape to seal graft

Use tape, grafting compound, or a homemade product to seal the graft.

An old veteran owned a large apple orchard two farms over and I often walked through it as a shortcut to the county road. One sharp April day when I was passing by, Harold Bualmer was on a ladder cutting limbs. Noticing me, he waved me over. He always had apples in his pockets and offered me what he called a “winter apple,” which to me looked like, well, an apple. He said he was pruning back the limbs and ground suckers to keep everyone behaving themselves and would use the fresh cuttings for grafts.

Being a bold child, I asked what a graft was. The old gent laughed and asked if anyone had ever shown me the orchardist’s secret. He climbed down from the ladder and told me to gather a bundle of cuttings and follow him.

Harold selected a sturdy tree with several low wrist-thick limbs. He produced the knife he had sliced up our snack of apples with, wiped it on his sleeve, and then began to work. First he trimmed off a few tiny suckers—“nuisance twigs” he gruffly called them—then, on a fairly flat area, he made a tiny, shallow triangle-shaped notch in the limb.

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Regenerative Fiber Farming

It was sheep shearing day on my grandpa’s ranch in the mid-20th century, and all I knew was that I was having fun. Everyone, including Grandpa, was clad in blue denim jeans on this sunny day. Gathered with other neighboring small-scale ranchers, we sheared and then stuffed and stomped wool into the gigantic bag that would be taken to market

organic cotton farming in California

Sally Fox of Vreseis Ltd., a Fibershed producer member in the Capay Valley of California, amidst the organic, naturally colored cotton she has been breeding for over 30 years.

Though considered old-fashioned and outdated in that era of get-big-or-get-out agriculture, small farmers in our area still gathered for shared missions like this. And there was no reason at the time for a kid like me to realize that what we were doing — raising textile fiber (a.k.a. fiber farming) in an Earth-regenerative manner — would become a world mission to support the health of the planet.

Holistic by default, Grandpa’s sheep were rotationally pasture-grazed, the ranch was diversified, and he planted by the moon’s cycles. That’s the only way he’d ever farmed. Yet that type of farming didn’t appear out of an inability to know better. It evolved from a powerful ability to sense what is needed to thrive.

Fast-forward to being a grandparent myself, and climate change adds a sense of urgency for not just our food and fuel to be Earth-restorative, but also our clothing and textiles. The after-harvest processing of fiber must be considered when improving the ecological impact of the textile industry, but eco-farmers serve the initial production of the fiber themselves, and it must happen in a way that also sustains them financially. Continue Reading →

How to Grow and Use Lemon Balm

I always get excited when I talk about herbs, especially when I talk about medicinal culinary herbs like lemon balm. Lemon balm’s simplicity, beauty, flavor, ease of care, and exceptional medicinal properties make it one of my favorites.

Harvesring lemon balm stems

Harvesting the long stems of lemon balm.

I particularly like the way lemon balm attracts beneficial insects and butterflies to my garden, and occasionally even the hummingbirds find it intriguing.

I am also partial to lemon balm tea, especially on a cold winter night, when its deep, earthy, lemony flavor brings back a touch of summer sunshine.

Sometimes referred to as Melissa or Sweet Melissa, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, of plants. Like other mint family members, lemon balm has scalloped, oval- to heart-shaped leaves that grow opposite one another on square (four-sided) stems. Its leaves are bright green on top and whitish below.

Lemon balm is a great herb to share with kids because the leaves are wonderfully fuzzy to touch, and they leave a trace of lemon scent on the fingers. Most people don’t stop to look at the flowers of lemon balm because they are very small. Up close, the tiny white to pale pink two-lipped flowers form whorled spikes that are quite pretty.

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Farmer Health: Personal Pathway to Healing

A few years ago I spent a cold weekend in November harvesting around 60 fully grown turkeys that each weighed approximately 30-45 pounds or so. They all had to be slaughtered, plucked, gutted, cleaned and bagged, and I used and abused my right arm and shoulder that day. At the end of that long and gory day I remember losing some feeling in the fingertips of my right arm. The next morning I woke up with a shoulder that was so inflamed and painful that I was more or less incapacitated for the day. Even when I tried to lay down and rest, the pain in my shoulder was so intense that I couldn’t stay still for more than a couple of seconds.

Dr. Kellie Seth at her practice, Healing River Chiropractic, in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Instead of sleeping I tossed and turned for a few nights. With my shoulder pain unabating, I called Dr. Kellie Seth on the recommendation of friends and made an appointment to see her. I remember pleading with her jokingly, asking her to help me be able to sleep again. In the meantime, I started to pop ibuprofen like candy.

When the appointment time came, I drove my truck, which had a manual transmission, to her office in Stillwater. Even just sitting on the driver’s seat caused agonizing pain in my shoulder. Finally, I got to her office after much gritting of my teeth.

It was difficult for me to even get my T-shirt off over my head and to set my keys and phone down. Kellie had me sit down on her chiropractic table and worked on my shoulder with a variety of methods, adjusting my neck and back. After a while she asked me how I felt. The pain was relieved tremendously. She informed me that I probably had a torn rotator cuff, and I would have to rest for a few weeks, preferably months, in order to let my shoulder heal. As a farmer, that was easier said than done.

As I drove home I realized that I hadn’t been feeling pain in my shoulder as I sat. When I arrived back on the farm, I also realized that I was able to use my arm again with very little pain. In the following days my shoulder began to feel normal again. Continue Reading →