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Archive | Crops

Quest for Quality: Growing Nutrient-Dense Crops

For Central Virginia farmers Dan Gagnon and Susan Hill, the best proof that they’re doing things right with their soil to produce nutrient-dense crops comes from the mouths of babes and customers facing health challenges.

Dan Gagnon discusses soil structure at Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia.

Gagnon and his wife, Janet Aardema, operate Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia. Gagnon likes to observe how children interact with food. His youngest son Beckett, 3, last winter used organic store-bought carrots to dip into salad dressing while Gagnon’s mom was looking after him. But he would not eat the carrots.

When she dropped him off, Gagnon had just dug some overwintered carrots. Despite a bit of dirt clinging to them, Beckett gobbled them up. “The feedback from customers that we continue to get has been very encouraging,” said Gagnon. “Also, a child’s palate is a great indicator of the quality of your produce.”

Hill, who grew up outside Helena, Montana — where, she says, if they didn’t grow it, they didn’t eat — cooks for a woman who has multiple sclerosis; another customer has cancer and another, Lyme disease. Continue Reading →

Saving Your Own Tomato Seeds

Saving your own tomato seeds from homegrown heirloom tomatoes will give a better tasting and producing tomato as it adapts to your location in just a couple of years. You only need a few fruits and some simple tools to get started.

A few considerations on saving your own tomato seeds: select fruit that are fully ripe or even just slightly overripe to get mature seeds; choose fruit with the characteristics that you are looking for — best-looking, best-tasting, earliest, latest or perhaps, largest. This will help you achieve more of the same qualities next year.

Finally, make sure that you are choosing open-pollinated or heirloom tomatoes, as hybrids from the store won’t grow true to what you started with. Saving some of your own seeds helps carry on an ancient gardening tradition many generations old.

The fermentation method duplicates what happens naturally when a tomato falls off the vine, ferments and then rots, leaving the seeds ready to germinate next spring. Continue Reading →

Meet the Vibrating Weeding Broom: DIY Weed Control Tool

In 2016, after a long period of trial and error, I quite by chance tried out a “vibrating weeding broom” for weed control that uses a rake with thin, spring steel wires and was able to carry out continuous (down the row) early interplant weeding without damaging the crop.The weeding was successful using the vibrating weeding broom (VWB), and I named it hawking, after the Japanese-style broom called a hawki.

Takao Furuno with his homemade Interplant
weeding broom.

Crops (rice, wheat and other cereal grains, soybeans, maize and vegetables) are often planted in rows. The space between the rows is known as inter-row space. The spaces in between the crop plants in a row are called interplant spaces (see Figure 1).

Inter-row weeding is known as intertillage weeding. Since there are no crops growing in this space, weeding can be carried out quickly by moving forward or backward continuously with a hoe or other hand tool, or a machine.

On the other hand, in the interplant spaces the weeds and the crops are close to one another, so it would seem to be difficult to eliminate only the weeds by moving forward continuously with a machine without harming the crop.

For nearly 40 years as an organic farmer I was convinced that mechanization of interplant space weeding cannot be easily done and continued to weed between the plants using my hands or a triangular hoe. There are probably many farmers around the world who think and do the same. Continue Reading →

Seeds of Organic Farming: Plant Breeding & Preserving Diversity

Scientist, Organic Farmer & Seedsman Alan Kapuler Discusses Organic Farming’s Past, Present & Future and Plant Breeding

Alan Kapuler graduated from Yale University in 1962 when he was just 19. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Rockefeller University. He is a seed saver, plant breeder, painter, organic farmer and public domain plant breeder advocate who co-founded Seeds of Change. He lives in Corvalis, Oregon. Kapuler shares the history and the origins of the California organic farming movement and its parallels with the national organic farming movement, as well as his own personal story and evolution as an agriculturalist, geneticist, organic grower, seed saver, plant breeder and biologist.

Interviewed by David Kupfer

Connecting with Nature

ACRES U.S.A. What was your first exposure to agriculture?

ALAN KAPULER. When I was nine or ten, my parents got an old chicken barn in upstate New York they bought for a summer country house. It was a big, long, low-ceilinged chicken barn they wanted to turn into a house, a place to live during the summer, as we lived in Brooklyn. We would go up there every summer for years. We used to get fresh corn and strawberries from a man who lived down the road. He had a field of corn and a bunch of strawberries. I remember that was the liberating experience of my life. It was probably one of the most formative things that happened to me because it was the first time I would go out in the corn and nobody knew where I was. I remember being safe in the cornfield. Back in Brooklyn I was getting beat up for one reason or another. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: How to Grow Top Quality Corn, by Dr. Harold Willis

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, How to Grow Top Quality Corn, written by Dr. Harold Willis. Copyright 1984, 2009, softcover, 58 pages. BOTW price: $8.00 ($12.00 regularly priced.)

By Dr. Harold Willis

So you want to grow top quality corn. Where do you begin?

Soil. The very most basic thing for growing really good crops is good soil. Soil that is not only high in fertility, but is alive with beneficial organisms. The ideal soil for growing corn is deep (six or more feet), medium-textured and loose, well-drained, high in water-holding capacity and organic matter, and able to supply all the nutrients the plant needs. Of course, not everyone has the perfect soil, and corn isn’t so fussy that it can’t do well on less than ideal soil. But I will show you how to build up your soil so that you can grow much better corn.

How to Grow Top Quality Corn

How to Grow Top Quality Corn, by Dr. Harold Willis

Climate. Corn does best with warm, sunny growing weather (75–86° F), well-distributed intermittent moderate rains, or irrigation (15 or more inches during the growing season), and 130 or more frost-free days. The U.S. corn belt has these soil and climatic conditions.

Humus. Even if the weather isn’t ideal, a good, living soil with high humus content will often make the difference between a good crop and disaster, for humus allows soil to soak up considerable moisture and hold it for dry periods. It is often the case that one farmer who has been building up his soil will have lush, green crops in a drought year, while his neighbor’s crops have burned up.

Soil parts. An average, good soil should contain nearly one-half mineral particles, one-fourth water, one-fourth air, and a few percent organic matter. The minerals supply and hold some nutrients and give bulk to the soil. Water is necessary for plant growth and for the soil organisms, but not too much or too little. Air (oxygen) is needed by roots and beneficial soil organisms. Organic matter (humus and the living organisms that produce it) is a storehouse of certain nutrients, holds water, gives soil a loose crumbly texture, reduces erosion, buffers and detoxifies soil, and even helps protect plants from diseases and pests because of antibiotics and inhibitors produced by beneficial bacteria and fungi. Some of these friendly microbes also produce plant growth stimulators, others help feed nutrients directly to roots, and others trap (fix) nitrogen from the air—free fertilizer. Continue Reading →

No-Till Growing: Vegetable Production

Robust spring cabbages at Tobacco Road Farm.

Over the last 20-plus years of vegetable growing at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut, we have constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of our crops and soils, and going no-till has been part of that journey.

About 3 acres of land is in vegetables, with half in year-round vegetable production and the other half cover cropped through the winter months.

The crop rotations are very close, with yields very high, so the intensity of production demands very careful soil care. To this end, soil amendments, fertilizers, inoculants and compost have been carefully selected and applied over the years.

Under this intensity of production, tillage was previously utilized to an excessive degree. This left the soil with a soil structure that was lacking in aggregation, tended toward surface crusting and with a plow pan always in need of mechanical breaking. The loosened soil of the tillage layer dried excessively in summer, leading to irrigation needs, and the soils’ air/water balance was constantly in jeopardy. Continue Reading →