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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.

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 →

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 →

Good Grazing Management: Build a Drought Reserve

One of the best ways to prepare for drought is by building and maintaining a drought reserve. A drought reserve is forage (grass, forbs, brush or whatever your livestock will eat) that is not consumed by the animals during the growing sea­son. This forage is then available if rain doesn’t come or can be grazed during the dormant season.

An Angus calf grazing.

The traditional and most logical way to build a drought reserve is to set aside some land and not graze it. If you need to, you can turn your livestock into these areas and they can survive on the forage you have stockpiled there. Think of this as a savings account. But instead of saving money, you are saving forage.

In a traditional drought reserve your savings account is separate from your checking account. Think of your check­ing account as grass that you are grazing, possibly multiple times a year. The bal­ance in your checking account changes all the time; sometimes you have a sur­plus of grass and at other times you might be low.

The traditional drought reserve might seem like a good idea, but Ian Mitchell-Innes of South Africa uses a different technique to build a drought reserve that is far superior to the traditional way of stockpiling grass. Mitchell-Innes learned this from holis­tic management planned grazing, and I learned this technique during my in­ternship on his ranch. The most exciting feature of building a drought reserve in this manner is the fact that your entire farm/ranch is the drought reserve. 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 →

Edible Landscaping with Elderberry

To harvest elderberries, cut the stem several inches below the cluster using a small pair of hand shears.

Elderberries have recently been dubbed a superfood, yet these big, beautiful plants with tiny dark berries have long been renowned for their versatility and flavor. Today, new elderberry cultivars are being bred from their wilder cousins to produce plants with improved disease resistance and higher production rates; a perfect combination for anyone wanting to add these luscious fruits to their edible landscape.

Recognizing Your Elders

Elders and elderberries belong to the Adoxaceae family of plants. Within this family is the elderberry genus known as Sambucus. This large genus contains more than 30 diverse species of shrubs and small trees. However, the two most common edible species of Sambucus in the United States are the relatively small native American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and the larger, more widely cultivated European elderberry (Sambucus nigra). These two species have been used to breed a wide array of commercial and ornamental cultivars that are often referred to as Common elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis).

These three elderberry species have very similar growth habits. All are perennial multi-stemmed shrubs characterized by their upright, bushy appearance and a tendency to grow in large colonies if not kept in check. Continue Reading →

The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health

Mycorrhizal inoculation effecta

This University of Florida photo shows the effect of mycorrhizal inoculation on maize drought response. Mycorrhizal colonization (front left and back right) helps plants avoid severe drought losses compared to the control (front right and back left).

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.

The vast majority of our cultivated soils are in an eroded and degraded state. As we increase demands on our soil to feed billions, we are losing it and depleting it at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to transform it will address both of these key issues. In addition to addressing drought and climate, the web of soil life is critical to maintaining and building soil resources we need now and into the foreseeable future.

Continue Reading →