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Archive | Eco-Farming

Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio: Understanding Chemical Elements in Organic Matter

Adding compost or other nutrients can help you find the right carbon-nitrogen ratios.

Carbon-nitrogen ratios are an important part of understanding soil, as explained by Crow Miller in this piece earlier published in Acres USA magazine:

There are two chemical elements in organic matter that are extremely important, especially in their relation or proportion to each other: they are carbon and nitrogen. This relationship is called the carbon-nitrogen ratio. To understand what this relationship is, suppose a certain batch of organic matter is made up of 40 percent carbon and 2 percent nitrogen. Dividing 40 by 2, one gets 20. The carbon-nitrogen ratio of this material is then 20 to 1, which means 20 times as much carbon as nitrogen. Suppose another specimen has 35 percent carbon and 5 percent nitrogen. The carbon-nitrogen ratio of this material then would be 7 to 1. Anyone who handles organic matter, who mulches, or who composts, regardless of which method is used, should have some idea about the significance of the carbon-nitrogen ratio.

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Mushrooms May Save Bees

A decade ago, honeybee populations around the world began declining at an alarming rate. In the early years of this trend, beekeepers lost 60 percent or more of their hives to a mysterious phenomenon that came to be known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). In each of these cases, worker bees simply disappeared, and it doesn’t take long for a colony to collapse without workers to provide food and to care for the young. Although this trend seems to have leveled off somewhat in recent years, the current average rate of 30 percent annual mortality is still nearly double the average rate reported prior to 2006.

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Soil pH: Making Adjustments to Boost Fertility

Raising soil pH is relatively inexpensive. Lime is the product of choice but there are two basic types of lime: high-calcium and dolomitic.

Soil pH adjustment may seem like a pretty straightforward operation, but there are many things to consider before undertaking such a bold step with soil chemistry. The first step is determine the direction you need to go and the products to use to achieve your goal.

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a good soil test. I’ve heard people say that based on the type of weeds or the fact that moss is growing means the soil pH needs adjusting. Assuming those statements were true, which direction and how much adjustment should be made? Without a good soil test it is pure and simple guesswork.

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Wood Ash: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer

Straight wood ash on the right and wood ash mixed with ground up charcoal on the left. Both will benefit most soils.

Straight wood ash on the right and wood ash mixed with ground up charcoal on the left. Both will benefit most soils.

Wood ash, as Jon Frank shares, can be a resource for making your own super fertilizer: You’ve heard of super foods — foods especially endowed with nutrition that merit special attention. I would like to suggest a simple, effective fertilizer you can make yourself. Often overlooked and many times deprecated because it was over-applied — it is time to give wood ash its due. If you burn wood for home heating you already have a ready supply. If not, all it takes is a bonfire and you are in business. I like to incorporate plenty of charcoal in combination with the wood ashes. This approach is more closely aligned with the creation of Terra Preta. To cut the dust, I like to mix wood ashes with moist leaf mold. You may want to en­hance your fertilizer by mixing 1 pound of kelp meal and 1 pound of sugar for every 20 pounds of ashes. If phosphorus is low in your soil, add bones to the bonfire and crush them with the charcoal.

I suggest using anywhere from 5 to 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Avoid using on soils with a pH above 7.8. The use of wood ash does not replace soil test and fertility recommendations; rather it supplements it and reduces the overall need to purchase costly off-site inputs. The beauty of using wood ash is that the spectrum and ratio of minerals present in the ash have already been preselected by plants. Its fine dust is very fast-act­ing in soil. Wood ashes are very rich in trace and secondary minerals, without adding nitrogen.

Beyond Wood Ash

To create an optimum growing environment in your garden take these actions:

  • Keep the mineral levels in your soil well supplied;
  • keep soil-applied nitrogen very low;
  • keep the soil consistently moist, and
  • make your own super fertilizer.

And now for the word of caution. Externally applied nitrogen is a safety net. Its use should not be discontinued in the following situations:

  • Indoor growing — Greenhouses and high tunnels are very intensive and require more production to remain profitable.
  • Commercial grain production — Don’t even think about it.
  • Soils heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides — The microbial system struggles in this environment and requires applied nitrogen.

by Jon Frank

For more information about fertilizer, subscribe to Acres USA.

 

Grassland Ecosystems: Restoration Tactics for Ecological Models of Crop Production

The author checks hazelnut clusters for ripeness on New Forest Farm. Perennial crops pictured include chestnut, hazelnut, apple, pear, grape, raspberries, currants, elderberries, and walnut.

The author checks hazelnut clusters for ripeness on New Forest Farm. Perennial crops pictured include chestnut, hazelnut, apple, pear, grape, raspberries, currants, elderberries, and walnut.

Grassland ecosystems are threatened around the world, although positive restoration techniques can be used to convert them back into sustainable models of agriculture.

The United States of America is the self-proclaimed “breadbasket of the world.” There is no denying the massive quantity of staple food crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice) that the United States produces. However, more and more people are coming to realize that there’s something moldy in the breadbasket. There is mounting evidence (with supporting documentation courtesy of the USDA) that annual agriculture, as practiced today, is now one of the most destructive technologies on the planet. What could possibly be more destructive than rendering sterile, with toxic chemicals, one-third of the surface area of a continent? Unless it is turning over the top 16-24 inches of the soil with plows, once or more every single year?

Agriculture kills everything in a given area except the crop, and for up to eight months of the year agriculture leaves the soil exposed, free to blow away in the wind or wash away in the rain. Even when a mature annual crop is in the field, the soil surface is usually bare, exposed to wind and water erosion.

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Biodynamic Farming: Why It Works and How to Get Started

Biodynamic farming can produce better, more fruitful harvests, a fact writer and grape farmer Patricia Damery documents for us with her story below:

Jesse stirring the biodynamic preparation barrel compost.

Jesse stirs the biodynamic preparation barrel compost.

My husband and I operate a Demeter-certified Biodynamic organic ranch in the Napa Valley, farming not only chardonnay grapes, but also aromatics and persimmons.

We started using biodynamic practices in 1999 after a near failure of a grape crop. At the time, we had a vineyard at an elevation of 1,600 feet in the Mayacamas range on the western edge of the Napa Valley. It was late September and the vines were closing down, the leaves turning golden as the days grew shorter and cooler. There seemed to be no way that these vines could help the grapes reach the sugar levels needed to make good wine. When our winemaker informed us that he would not be purchasing the grapes because he didn’t believe they could ripen, we panicked. This was a financial loss that we could not afford.

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