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Archive | Permaculture

Stories, photos and podcasts about permaculture techniques, including information about healthy pollination tactics. Permaculture is defined as the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Branching Out: Farmers Embrace Alternative Orcharding

The time is ripe to take a new look at orcharding design and function. Around the country, from Michigan’s cherry trees to New York State’s apple and peach crops, orchards have been hit with crop losses after late frosts during the past few seasons. Disease pressures, such as those impacting the Florida citrus industry, are another major concern. In circumstances such as these, growers who aren’t diversi­fied may have lost their primary in­come for the year.

Seaberry (sea-buckthorn) is one of many crops grown at Hilltop Community Farm.

The sustainability of a system de­pendent upon one cash crop, along with the lack of diversity inherent in such systems, combined with increas­ing concerns about the amount of chemicals used in conventional fruit and nut production, has led a new wave of orchardists to explore alterna­tive methods of growing fruit.

Forward-thinking growers are uti­lizing a variety of means to reinvent the way an orchard grows. They are cultivating rare, unusual or native fruits, growing in a scale-appropriate manner and addressing orchard di­versity through polyculture and mim­icking natural ecosystems. Continue Reading →

Regional Crops: Preserving Diversity

Regional crops that fed our ancestors and provided a sense of place are disappearing, but some growers and researchers are dedicated to the continuation of these old favorites, refusing to allow them — and our food roots — to disappear.

Jenny Caleo performs a pollination experiment on beach plums.

Whether indigenous or introduced, wild-harvested or cultivated, these food crops at one time held great importance in their various localities. Interest in less commonly known specialty crops is increasing, even while their growing popularity is sometimes accompanied by controversy.

This article will examine four of them.

New England Roots

It goes by many names: Cape White turnip, Westport turnip, Eastham turnip. These names — all taken from New England locales — are used in lieu of its official one: the Macomber rutabaga. Traditionally a part of southern New England Thanksgiving celebrations, this rutabaga is a New England notable, although rutabagas — a hybrid between turnips and wild cabbage — are not native to the United States.

“It’s very similar to parsnips,” said Chris Clegg of Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. “It is not nearly as bitter as purple top rutabagas or bland as yellow rutabagas,” and is quite popular in the region. Continue Reading →

Pigs on Pasture: Water & Shelter

Appropriate shelter and access to clean water are critical aspects of survival for humans and animals alike. Shelter is where an animal feels the absence of stress. Every animal needs a certain level of safety and security to go about the business of living: freedom from stress allows them to comfortably eat, drink, procreate, sleep, as well as raise the next generation in safety.

We humans have become experts at creating extensively complex and secure shelters for ourselves that cater to our every physical whim. In confinement-type farming situations a similar mentality prevails; the designers of these systems try to minimize the physical stresses in order to maximize growth with minimal space.

Factory farming has been very successful at creating animal warehouses that meet the minimum needs of the animal without addressing the other aspects of holistic animal health. Like employees in a corporate system, animals have become cogs in a well-oiled machine that pumps out meat by the ton. As referenced in the animated short film The Meatrix, it is time to take the red pill and understand that this paradigm is not the future of farming. Continue Reading →

Biointensive Growing for Smart-Scale Farming

Conventional thinking holds that vegetable farms must be fully mechanized and produce on a certain scale to provide a livelihood, except in extraordinary circumstances, but Les Jardins de la Grelinette (Broad Fork Gardens) in Quebec, busts this myth, using biointensive growing methods.

For more than a decade Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Helene Desroches have operated a phenomenally successful “biologically intensive” microfarm using biointensive growing methods.

By choice they use only hand tools and a small walk-behind tractor and employ only one or two workers. Yet with less than 2 acres under cultivation and one greenhouse and two hoop houses on their certified organic farm, this husband and wife team grosses around $150,000 a year.

Of that impressive sum, they’re able to count more than 40 percent as profit for family living. Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene are in their 30s and have two children.

At a half-day workshop I attended in the company of well over 100 farmers, Jean-Martin summed up some of their achievements. Continue Reading →

Harvesting, Preparing Wild Potato

It’s true; the edible plants our ancestors have cultivated for hundreds of years are the main ones that get placed on the kitchen table, but their “wild” edible cousins that go back thousands of years — including wild potato — will most likely remain the black sheep of the family because few see their true worth.

White flowers and ruby throats, purple stems and heart-shaped leaves are the traits to help identify wild potato vine.

With all the talk of organic gardening and heirloom seeds, you’d think wild food and seeds would be at least as popular since there really isn’t any more “heirloom” than the wild cousins of modern day garden vegetables.

The surreal truth is that much of the population will happily eat genetically engineered foods without blinking an eye, but if asked by a well-known and respected forager to eat a wild plant, most get squeamish.

What if I told you there was food available that didn’t require the ground to be tilled, fertilized or watered? What if I told you that many of the weeds that you pull out of your garden and yard are more nutritious and even taste better than the neighboring vegetables? What if I told you there was a whole rainbow of nutritious and tasty flavors out there just waiting to be explored and experimented with which have histories with our ancestors going back hundreds and even thousands of years? Continue Reading →

Soil Sentinels: Harness The Power of Earthworms

When moist, practically all soils from tundra to lowland tropics support the activity of earthworms. Largely unseen, earthworms are a diverse, powerful workforce with the capacity to transform soil into fertile ground.

Found in 27 families, more than 700 genera and greater than 7,000 species, earthworms vary from about 1 inch to 2 yards long. Their living mass outweighs all other animal life forms in global soils. Although we may view earthworms as being both prolific and productive, do we fully appreciate our human capability to favor their beneficial efforts as allies allowing farms and gardens to flourish? I think not.

Earthworms not only play productive roles in sustainable agriculture, but they have enormous capacity to help mitigate our elevated atmospheric greenhouse gas content by reducing carbon and nitrogen gas. Continue Reading →