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Archive | Eco-Farming

Growing Great Garlic

If you are searching for a low-maintenance cash crop, consider growing garlic. Brian Fox planted 35 pounds of garlic in his garden 11 years ago. He now plants 700 pounds in October using 15 tons of hay mulch at Salem Mountain Farms in northeastern Pennsylvania. He harvests about 4,000 pounds in the summer. “I can’t imagine stopping,” he said. “It’s certainly a satisfying thing to grow. It’s one of those things we see in the spring before actual leaves start growing on trees.”

He is not super busy when garlic needs attention. He hand-pulls the garlic after his busy planting season in June and early July.

“It’s a natural fit with the things we do on the farm,” he said. “We isolate it from everything else.”

A five- to seven-year rotation prevents fungus or disease buildup. Garlic thrives in loose soil with a pH around 6.5. He grows German White, a hardneck variety also referred to as German Extra-Hardy and German Red. He said it grows well in heavier soil and thrives well in the Northeast.

Producers should ask local farmers about which varieties they have had the most success growing in their climate.

Hardneck varieties thrive in cold areas and keep longer than softneck. Softneck varieties, which are smaller on average, fare well in a wide range of climates, even enduring irregular weather. They grow better where winters are moderate.

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Wild Farm Alliance Supports Connections Between Farmer, Ecosystems & Community

Wild Farm Alliance reports that 37 percent of the Earth’s land is dedicated to agriculture, making farmland a top priority for Earth regeneration and wildlife conservation. While they assist farmers, they also connect with them for the purpose of learning from them. And that’s valuable to farmers, because we have to be careful that non-farming certifiers and agricultural advisors do not become too distant from farming itself. Often farmers are the ones on the forefront of continual discovery and innovation by being constantly engaged in their operations.

Photo courtesy of Wild Farm Alliance. Hedgerows can provide a multitude of benefits including pollinator, beneficial insect and wildlife habitat, dust and wind protection and increased diversity.

Each time we plant borders for beneficial insects or erect homes for raptors as rodent control, we’re offering something to wild nature in exchange for it being our ally as we nurture domesticated crops. Sometimes, as with Nettles Farm on Lummi Island in Washington State, nature’s bounty makes its way into the farm’s offerings.

Nettles Farm is surrounded by the sea and natural woodlands. Wild rose petals, wild plums and even edible seaweeds find their way into the foods of the chefs they supply at the famous Willows Inn.

Meanwhile, more and more information is surfacing on the huge potential agriculture has toward climate and natural resource restoration. But both farmers and wild nature are vulnerable, and like any good partnership, the union can truly sustain itself when each partner receives ongoing symbiotic support from the other. This article focuses on how eco-farmers are affected by growing desires and expectations to support ecosystems while earning a living at the same time, along with how I’ve seen an organization called Wild Farm Alliance assist them.

Even if it initially appears a future farm and wild nature partnership would be symbiotic eventually, the transition time to reach that state needs to be financially and labor-wise feasible. Farms can’t support nature if they go out of business in their attempts to do so and sell out to development or corporate agriculture. And because consumer demand fuels the farm with its financial support and policy voting, consumer understanding of the process farms must go through to reach and maintain higher states of sustainable regeneration is also intrinsic to the partnership. Continue Reading →

Food Hubs Connect Growers, Consumers

Across the country, small to medium-sized farms are forming regional wholesale food hubs to market, aggregate and distribute locally produced food from farms to restaurants, hospitals, schools, universities, grocery stores and other institutions.

Local tomatoes sold through the Puget Sound Food Hub.

These hubs help level the playing field with the competition from cheap, industrial produce trucked long distances, while benefitting the environment by reducing fuel emissions. They help bring communities together, furthering USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, and strengthening the farm to table connection.

The Puget Sound Food Hub (PSFH) serves Western Washington. PSFH is a farmer-owned cooperative operating in the Puget Sound region. It was originally conceived of and started by the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC), a nonprofit that works collaboratively with farmers and businesses to increase the economic viability of local agriculture. Continue Reading →

Growing Beans: A How-To Guide

Staple and comfort food icon, the bean has been playing an essential role in the survival of people and animals since ancient times. Evidence has been unearthed that old-world legumes (len­tils, peas, broad beans, chick peas and soybeans) have been used as food for more than 10,000 years in eastern Asia. Caches of lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs, signifying the reverence paid to this plant. Jason Ladock in “His­tory of Legumes: Man’s Use of Legumes” on healthguidance.org writes that today “Legumes are second only to the cereal grasses as sources of human food and ani­mal forage.”

Lima bean vine.

Why are legumes so popular? Le­gumes, members of the bean or Fabaceae plant family have many significant at­tributes. An important source of protein and fiber, beans also are high in iron, potassium and magnesium. They are easy to grow, and when dry, many beans can be stored for long periods of time without losing viability if they are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment. Besides the food nutrient benefits, the USDA Soil Quality Institute reports that beans have an ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, with the help of symbiotic Rhizobia bacteria living in their roots, and supply up to 90 percent of their own nitrogen.

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Electrical Conductivity: The Pulse of the Soil

Traditionally soil consultants have used electrical conductivity to measure salinity, however conductivity can tell us much more about the physical structure and health of the soil. Based on these direct measurements, electrical conductivity can also indirectly measure crop productivity.

When we walk into our home on a dark night, the first thing we usually do is turn on the lights. With the flip of a switch, we complete the electrical circuit initiating the flow of electricity to the light bulb, illuminating our home.

In the human body, electricity controls the flow of blood from the heart to all organs. In the same way we flip a switch turning on the lights, electrical signaling in the body tells the heart when and how often to contract and relax. These electrical signals can be altered by the intake of nutrients. Case in point, the intake of high-salt foods can lead to a higher pulse rate. With a higher pulse rate, your heart and other organs must work harder in order to function properly. Certainly this extra work puts added stress on the body. In contrast, consuming a balanced form of energy can reduce the stress put upon the body.

Waking up in the morning and only consuming caffeine does not give you the same energy as waking up and eating a balanced breakfast. While both inputs may increase your readiness in the morning, physiologically they affect the human body in different ways. Inputs into any biological system whether human, animal, plant or soil consequently will affect the system in different ways. Continue Reading →

Calves: Rearing Them Right

Tips for rearing calves from former New Zealand dairy farmer, agricultural consultant and all-round farming legend Vaughan Jones, interviewed by Stephen Roberts.

Vaughan, let’s talk first about the financial impact of correct calf rearing.

If you are too busy, unsure about calf rearing, or don’t have the proper facilities, then forget it and buy weaners. Sometimes it is more profitable to buy yearlings, which often sell cheaply.

Calf rearing is a specialty job requiring specific knowledge. Correctly reared calves continue to grow at a faster rate after weaning than poorly reared ones, and the eventual size of adult animals relates to their weaning weight. It’s the farmer’s knowledge of this that encourages the high bidding at calf sales for well-reared ones.

How important is managing cow nutrition prior to calving?

Successful calf rearing starts before calving, with the dams not being too thin or too fat, on a rising plane of nutrition from drying off to calving. Calves can die within the first month of being born due to mineral deficiencies in the dams before birth. Deficiencies can be caused by insufficient feed for the dam or poor quality feed lacking necessary minerals, especially selenium, copper and iodine.

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