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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.

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 →

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 →