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Archive | Eco-Farming

Minerals: The Big Four for Soil Health

Minerals and their respective roles in achieving healthy soil is a common topic of discussion among agriculture consultants and farmers. A long time ago, when I was going through my initial soil balance training, mineral balance was all that we talked about. Get the minerals right, address calcium and get it to 68 percent base saturation and all will be great.

Healthy, well-mineralized soils have good aggregation.

The physical and biological aspects of soil weren’t even part of the discussion. Even alternate mineral sources were just touched on. Potassium chloride (KCl) was a no-no due to the high salt index and the chloride, as was dolomitic lime due to our already high magnesium soils. Also on this “not to be used” list was anhydrous ammonia because of its damaging effects on soils. The concept of soil correctives and crop fertilizers wasn’t talked about either, nor was the idea of different calcium sources for different soil conditions. The balance of nutrients on a soil test was the only goal.

Now, looking back, I can certainly see that wasn’t the whole picture. What about the biology and the physical structure? How about making a fertilizer that not only delivered soil minerals but did so more efficiently? Why not have fertilizer that can balance the soluble to the slow release, make sure carbon is added for the buffering effect and provides something for the minerals to attach to so that it is “soil biology food”? Soil health is the capacity to function without intervention; therefore minerals are certainly a part, but not the whole of soil health. Continue Reading →

Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

Organic agriculture practices are often blamed for being unsustainable and not able to feed the world. In fact, several high-profile advocates of conventional agricultural production have stated that the world would starve if

A worker in the agricultural field.

we all converted to organic agriculture. They have written articles for science journals and other publications saying that organic agriculture is not sustainable and produces yields that are significantly lower than conventional agriculture.

Thus, the push for genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, animal- feed antibiotics, food irradiation and toxic synthetic chemicals is being justified, in part, by the rationale that without these products the world will not be able to feed itself.

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Flame Weeding: Turn up the Heat to Fight Weeds

Flame weeding (also referred to as flaming) has been an apt option for or­ganically ridding row crops and fields of uninvited weeds while also replenishing the soil with nutrients from the result­ing carbon. Wedding the proficiency of flame with the compressed liquid power of propane has served many farmers and food producers well over the past cen­tury. According to the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticide, the first agricultural flame weeder was patented in 1852.

Flaming with propane attacks weeds with no repercussions on crops or fields.

Flame weeding is done by generat­ing intense heat through a chosen de­vice — whether it is a handheld torch or tractor-mounted — that sears the leaves of the weeds, which causes the cell sap to expand, thusly damaging the cell walls. “You’re watching for the color change, depending on the weed and its maturity,” said Charles House of Earth & Sky Solutions. Leaves wilt and dehydrate the plant, leaving the invaders no other option than to die, sometimes up to three days later.

“The key to successful flame weeding is the maturity of the plant you’re trying to eradicate. The smaller, the better,” he explains. The best time is when they’re immature and in the cotyledon stage.

Flame Weeding Background

Flaming gained popularity in the first third of the 20th century and continued through the 1960s until pesticides re­placed industry attentions. Though its use waned over the following 20 years, flame weeding resurfaced and regained popularity in the early 1990s, and con­tinues to be used today. So continues flame weeding’s renaissance. Continue Reading →

Bats for Natural Pest Control

Bats have a bad reputation. In reality, bats can be a farmer’s best friend by providing free and effective pest control services over farm fields and orchards.

A Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida rasiliensis) eating a moth. Courtesy Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat
Conservation International, www.batcon.org.

Most bat species in the United States are generalist insect predators, which means they will consume most medium-sized flying insects. Determining exactly what insects bats eat is often difficult, since bats feed in the sky at night. Until recently, scientists studied the diet of bats by dissecting fecal pellets under a microscope and identifying insect fragments, such as pieces of exoskeletons or legs, that survived the digestive tract of the bat.

With the exception of hard-shelled insects, including some stinkbugs and beetles, this rarely allowed for identification of insects to species level. Scientists could confirm that bats ate moths but could not confirm that bats were consuming specific pests of economic interest.

Modern techniques in the field of genetics now allow scientists to recover DNA from fecal samples and identify the insect remains found in bat feces by sequencing the insects’ DNA. Using these modern techniques, bat researchers across the country have identified to species level almost 200 insects that are consumed by bats, and many of these insects cause substantial economic loss.

Most of the insects consumed in the United States are beetles and moths. While it is generally the larval form of moths that damage crops, bats are benefiting the crops by consuming the adult flying forms, therefore preventing the insects from further reproducing.

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Chicken Breed Selection

Chicken breed selection can be a confusing prospect for the modern small farm laying flock. Sex-link birds will give you a great many light brown-shelled eggs of fair size right now, but they won’t build a sustainable and enduring flock.

Locate the purest possible sources of a breed’s genetics. The longer a particular flock’s history is, the better.

Small producers often need to do a better job of presenting their eggs for sale. Even if a flock is made up of all heirloom breeds, a badly mixed-up flock will not produce uniform eggs for sale, produce predictable replacements or foster a positive image. A friend says such flocks look like “grandma’s chicken yard.”

An egg is an egg once the shell is removed and no one will prosper by fostering and spreading old wives’ tales and misinformation. The white-shelled egg deserves the small-scale producer’s consideration every bit as much as the brown-shelled variety.

A good laying flock with a purebred basis is a long-term pursuit. Don’t take up heirloom birds on a whim and then neglect or let them go after a season or two. Such birds seldom make it to another set of caring hands with any sort  of commitment to their preservation as  a breed.

Heirloom breed producers can and should function in a number of different roles. Yet, even with a single focus, be it meat, eggs or seedstock, each flock and producer will have its own unique nature. A part of the task is to know your breed or breeds fully and even more so the birds that make up the actual flocks. A White Wyandotte and Rosecomb White Leghorn have a great many similarities, but all must admit that they were bred and refined for two rather different tasks in life. If you have a good market for light brown eggs in fair numbers and some demand for broilers or roasters, then the White Wyandotte should be your choice of the two breeds. While Leghorn cockerels were my grandmother’s favorite choice of young birds to fry in her day, the Leghorn must be your breed of choice for eggs in greater numbers.

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Weed Control: Mulching Questions Answered

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products.

Weed control through mulching makes sense for many growers, but there are often questions about sourcing, safety and sustainability. May is a critical time for many gardeners to deal with existing or imminent weed issues before problems get totally out of control. Mulching is a key component of a multi-pronged approach to gaining the upper hand in the weed control battle.

Is Cypress Mulch Sustainable?

Shredded cypress is a popular mulching material for weed control because it is slow to decompose and the long strands lock together and don’t blow or float away easily. Attractive and natural looking, cypress mulch has many fans in the garden. The majestic swampy cypress forests across the Southeast, where most of the cypress mulch is harvested, are a true ecological sanctuary and face encroaching building development as more and more people flock to the Sunbelt. Gardeners are  now beginning to look at the source of their mulch and question the sustainability of cypress mulch harvesting.

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