Saturday, January 12, 2019

Putting Ecology into Agroecology Part 2

 This is the second part of three parts on putting ecology into agroecology. In this part I want to examine land and habitat restoration. It is an important part of regenerating land. This is partially done by monitoring the ecosystem covered in the last blog. It also involves introducing plants that heal the land. Developing land in such a way to emulate nature means several things, using native plants, doing this in stages and designing areas to create a balanced diversity.  The list below is for creating healthy habitats. Restoring land is an art and a science. It can also be a spiritual work. Healing land can heal one's soul. It connects us with the land.
  Plants that restore land: In general, Sonchus oleraceus (sow thistle), lupines, alfalfa, clovers, comfrey, dandelion, yarrow. The plant list below is for creating healthy habitats.
     Praries plants:  Amorpha canescens ( lead plant), Baptisia alba  (wild white indigo), white prairie clover, Lespediza, Heal all (pruella vulgaris), Lomatium and self heal.
     Southeast: plants: Alfalfa or Lucern, oats, white clover, rye grass, hairy vetch, yarrow, big blue stem grass, gamma grass, asclepias. self heal, plantain.
     Northwest plants: Red alder tree, yarrow, holodiscus discolor (ocean spray shrub), parnassia fimbriata, oat grass, Queen Anne's lace, bed straw, owl clover, Seablush, balsam, balsam root, lupine, Oregon sunrise, douglas aster.
     Southwest plants: Rice grass, Feather grass, blue gamma grass, James galleta, globe mallow, alsclepias, fleabane, bluebell flower, lomatium, wild sage.

Plants that remediate soil: Indian mustard, pelargoniums, sunflowers, sea pink thrifts, red clover, wild lettuce, gomphrena, claussenii, chick peas, birdsfoot trefoil, chinese cabbage, canna lily, salix, willow.

Plants that remediate water: Water lily (nymphea alba), phragmites australias (common reed), sparganium erectum (yellow flag iris), schoenoplectus lacustris (club rush or bull rush), duck week,  cress, stratiotes alvides (water soldier), hytocharis horsus-remae (european frogbit), ealamus (sweet flag reed).

Plants that attract beneficial insects: Yarrow, Umbellifers (dill, queen Anne's lace, ammi majus, caraway, parsley, fennel, cilantro), allysum, sunflower, clover, tansy, golden rod, borage, digitalis, chamomile, coreopsis, cosmos, verbascum, forsythia, amaranth, shasta daisy, vetch, chervil, spirea, aster, lavender, forsythia and tall grass for spiders.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Putting Ecology into Agroecology.

  This blog is set in three parts. The first is on developing an intimate relationship with a piece of land. It involves doing an ecological assessment of the land. It helps to know what the history of the land was before you arrived. Most land has been abused and is in need of restoration. Understanding how the land functions ecologically is important if you wish to work with the dynamic nature of a piece of land. While conducting monitoring of the land it helps to view the entire land as a living entity. This means looking at it as a living organism. Most of what lives on the land was there before you arrived and will be there when you are gone. So it isn't a matter of what is on your land but rather who's land are you on and how do you coexist within that unique environment. Some important monitoring tools: (Once you go to that site, go to the menu and click, Water Quality Monitoring, Scroll down and click, macroinvertebrates. That will provide a useful chart for  water insects. The more you have, the cleaner your water is.  Next is insect identification., This will provide a good reference for identifying insects. In a previous blog I did a description on insects. Please refer to that blog for information on monitoring for insects on your land. Soils are important to look at. This is the most stable of the elements and the one we can most affect. Finally, observing the flow of energy as it passes thru the land.
  The second part will go into restoring habitats and regenerative practices. It is about healing land and emulating nature.
  The third is on design and creating an integrated system to grow in. I hope it offers some insight. This is all taken from my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming (Biodynamic Principles and Perspectives.
How to do an assessment of your ecosystem. 

Water is a huge biological niche. It attracts a lot of life and is an important component to a balanced ecosystem. Three things to look at in examining water. Movement is necessary for it to replenish as a life source. Oxygen feeds life in the water. A drop in water provides for that. If you don't have that, you might want to set up a fountain. Riparian borders are a habitat that protects and preserves the biology along the water. Check for macro invertebrates with the screen method. Go to Click on Water Quality Monitoring, and scroll down to macro invertebrates for a chart.

  The woods is the next area of study. This is where insects and animals come from that move into your field and growing area. This is where you can inspect for habitats of small animals, birds and insects. It is also where you can find symbiotic relationships that favor a confluent ecosystem.  Mushrooms growing at the base of trees is an example of fungus having a compatible relationship with tree roots. I have muscadine vines growing up into the trees. The trees provide a trellis. The grapes attract birds that also comb the trees for insects. The dead trees and leaf litter attract decomposers that break down materials that provide nutrients for plants. Older trees are the gene pool, younger trees are the regeneration of an ecosystem. Compatibility is the key to confluence in nature. A healthy wooded area is integral to a balanced ecosystem.                        Moving into a field you can observe the plants. Again look for diversity. A mix of grasses, dicotyledons, legumes and wildflowers create the diversity needed for healthy balance. Mushrooms indicate a good mycorrhizal presence. After heavy rains look for standing water. If this is present you may need to open up channels to drain the water. The field provides food for livestock or hay or mulch. My hay is for composting.
   Insects are important to monitor. I use a combination of nets for flying insects and sticky traps. On my Sept. blog I discuss insects. Please refer to it for insect monitoring. Keep in mind that insect problems are simply indicators of an imbalance. I will refer to this more in the third part of this blog.                                            Soils are pretty obvious. Soil is the element that is most stable and most fragile.  If you dig you probably have a good idea of your soil. There are several plants that can be used as indicators. I think the simple thing to do is get a soil test done through the local Cooperative Extension Service. It can be done for a nominal fee. It will provide you with the PH and macro nutrients. It is good to do every 3 or 4 years to see how your soil has improved. Look at the soil profile to examine how much top soil you have. Many of us have little or no top soil. In this case you are in need of major soil restoration. There are plants that are natural healers of the soil. Sowthistle (Sonchus Oleraceus), alfalfa, all clovers, lupines, compfrey, stinging nettle and dandelion are a few that help replenish the soil. To monitor for soil insects is quite easy. Take a square foot out side of your growing beds. Do this after a light rain. Observe for soil insects, such as centipedes, millipedes, sowbugs and earthworms are all good decomposers. If you have around 10 - 12 earthworms per square foot, you are in good shape. A good steward of the land is a good soil builder.                 The last area is to observe energy flow. Water and air can be redirected. For example, edible                     hedgerows can be used as wind breaks. Wind breaks should  redirect air flow not stop it. A row of plants can also redirect the flow of water. Groups of tall trees catch water in the form of rain. Small shrubs catch air flow. Tall plants create shade for other plants. Wild life habitats are useful along the edge of woods. There are many ways to work this into your design. More information is located in the design chapter of my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming. 


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Seed Saving

     Happy Solstice.
 Saving seeds is a wonderful dimension to add to growing a farm or garden. This is also another aspect to the growers evolution. There are many reasons for saving one's seeds. It provides a deeper relationship with what you grow. The seeds you grow become your own seed. Being truly sustainable involves securing your germ plasm. Seeds adapt to your growing area and become better suited to your micoenvironment. For me it is one of the ways I can grow optimum quality.  If you grow a quantity, you can save lots of money and hassles with seed companies. I probably save a few hundred dollars a year and my germination rates are very reliable. It offers a new form of wealth culturally and monetarily. Going full circle helps to understand the complete development of the plant. They become part of the plant community I grow in. Going from seed to a new generation of seeds completes the circle of life.
 What we did at Tierra Sonrisa was, We conducted trials on desirable varieties. This took a few years, since I grow over a hundred different types of vegs, flowers, herbs and fruit. I brought some seeds with me with stories from my past. When we found plants with amazing characteristics, so we chose amazing winners. Seeds pass through one's life. I am happy with what I have right now. About 80% of what I grow is from my seed. So I continue to expand and changes are always on the horizon. Seeds carry with them all the makings of a new plant. It just needs water and nourishment. It carries stories from the past and visions of the future. It is waiting for a fresh start at radical growth and enough stamina to carry it through the season.
 One of the best ways to secure seeds is through a supportive community. That can be done with a seed bank or seed lending library that works with local seed savers. It can also be done with friends and fellow growers who support this kind of work, if you are in an area where that interest exists.  
 Start with easy seeds like beans and peas. They are self pollinated. So are peppers and eggplant. The umbellifers produce at the end of their flower tips.This applies to carrots, dill, cilantro.  Squash is easy but different varieties need about on hundred feet of space to prevent cross pollination. Summer squash will not cross with winter squash, which will not cross with cucumbers, which will not cross with melons. Lettuce produces fine seeds once their flower is dried up. Mustard is also fairly easy. This include Chinese greens. Tomatoes prefer fermentation. It is not necessary but helps. Pick over ripe fruits. Bust them open. Place in a jar with a little water. After they ferment, scoop the top off and the good seeds are on the bottom. Rinse and dry. There is much more to this but this is a good place to start.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Secrets of good gardening

 One of the biggest secrets of good gardening does not need to be
a secret at all. It involves imitating nature. The web work of soil involves a network of plants that feed and protect the soil. This microcosm or micro environment  goes down a few inches below
the soil. There is a vast diversity of species small and microscopic that occupy this area along roots and capillary structures. It breathes and releases gases and oxygen valuable to plant growth.
There are also many life forms that exist a few inches above the soil. This is where two worlds meet. It is very dynamic and fragile.
If plants are the cover and sometimes the scar tissue of the earth than this is one of the most intense living environments on the earth. If allowed to flourish it resembles a jungle like environment. To enhance this is the best way to enrich the land. There is a multitude of species that only exist in this intense microcosm. When the earth interacts with the atmosphere life thrives in abundance. Fertility is the marriage of the confluent interaction of these life forces. This dynamic exchange of moisture and oxygen enhances this interaction and protects it. A lush garden starts at the surface of the soil.  Cover crop helps create this and so does intensive planting techniques. leaving plants to grow on bare land does not encourage this rich environment.. Cover crops offer an opportunity to give back to the soil. It is an investment toward future crops. If planted in the fall as summer and fall crops are on their way out, it protects the soil while providing this rich web work of life. I use a combination of vetch, rye and clover. Other combinations work well in other zones. Giving back and encouraging soil biology is what regenerative practices are all about. This is covered more extensively in my book,  Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Insects (an integrated approach)

 Insects are all over your garden, what to do. First off, enjoy nature. Insects are a link between plants and the world around them. Insects do little damage in a healthy ecosystem. Insect problems are an indication of an imbalance. Around 97% of all insects are beneficial. Most of them feed on other insects, like the argiope spider on the right.  So when you spray insecticides you are killing more beneficial insects then those that do damage. Insecticides do not work long term. They simply breed resistance. For instance, if you spray a poison on insects you may kill say 85% of all of them. There are members that have superior genes that make them resistant to the spray. The next time you spray you only kill 70%, then 50%. Eventually all you have left are the ones that are resistant to the poison. You have bred a resistant strain. Now you must go to a stronger poison and start the process all over. In the end you have accomplished very little and may end up with organ cancer. I choose to encourage habitats that attract beneficial insects. I also use Organic IPM practices. Integrated Pest Management involves understanding the insect cycles and working with them to curb their growth by emulating what nature does. I grow around 30 varieties of cut flowers. I integrate them into the beds next to the ones with food. Some of the flowers attract beneficial insects that feed on the harmful ones. One example is that I grow Borage around tomato plants. The Borage is a host plant for Braconid wasp. This wasp pictured below will sting the tomato horn worm planting eggs inside. The immature wasp will feed on the inside of the caterpillar. What you see in the picture are pupae ready to hatch out of the almost dead horn worm . Do not disturb them. Some birds are useful for eating lots of insects as well. Monitoring your garden or farm for insect populations is a useful tool for evaluating who is around.
Take a piece of plastic and paint it yellow.
Apply tanglefoot on one side and hang it.
This can be done during each season to
 see who is there. Using a net is another
 device to collect insects. To identify the
insects go to;  Cohabitating with your environment teaches you how to become a better steward of the land. More information can be found in my book: Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming, published by Rowman and Littlefield., available on Amazon books.
The video below shows Golden Rod (solidago altissima). This is a wonderful plant to attract a wide range of beneficial insects. It also provides necessary bee food for the fall. The diversity of plants helps create a balanced ecosystem. The healthy garden is manifested by practicing good stewardship practices.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fruit Tree Care (fron Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming)

Fruit trees require regular care, not as often as bedded plants  but there is work to do at every stage of development.Choosing varieties that are disease resistant does not always work. Choose varieties that other growers in your area growing and learn from their  mistakes.               Pruning is used to create balance and to open up the inside to allow air and sunlight into the middle of the tree. Take out suckers and cut out damage. The tree on the left has spreaders to train the branches to grow out. The tub next to it collects rain water to attract bees during flowering.     Soil, remove weeds once in the early part of the year and top dress with good quality compost and a layer of mulch. As weeds return pick the ones that are beneficial or better yet put in plants that benefit the plant. Some examples are ; tansy will discourage ants, chives will discourage apple scab. I grow mints under the trees where they will not invade other plants. There are plants that do well at attracting beneficial insects. Yarrow attracts lacewings and lacewings are good at eating aphids and other small insects. These are the most threatening because they are disease vectors. Hyssop is another good plant for attracting beneficial . Borage attracts braconid wasps. This wasp will parasitize catepillars. Golden rod attracts ground beetles. If you live out west, Rivaled sagebrush attracts many preditors. Dill, fennel and echinacea are also good for attracting beneficials . Wormwood ( artimesia)  or artimesia trdentata distracts many insects that treaten your trees. If you have Japanese Beetles you can set up a sex lure, but not in your trees set it up across the field or give it to your neighbor. For codling moth you might be able to scrape the bark to find them. Treating them with bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is effective. The pear on the left  has mint planted around the base. It will help discourage ants. Pesticide sprays are non specific and so kill more beneficial insects than harmful ones. A healthy approach is to design for diversity. I do not plant orchards. I try to integrate fruits into the garden in strategic locations where they will do best. The pear below needs thinning. Left alone they might break the branch they are on.
If you are having problems with bark splitting or insects. Tree pastes can be made to protect the tree. Here are tow recipes. Equal parts diatomaceous earth, clay and compost made into a slurry and painted on the tree. Another is rock phosphate, compost and silica. This is for repairing damaged trees.  Since trees are a more permanent addition I prefer to build a compost pile on the space where the plant will go the next year. My pile are about 6 ft. x 6 ft. I also like to plant a $25 tree in a $50 hole. In other words do it right the first time. Raspberries and strawberries are planted in beds that are shared with perennial flowers or herbs that provide good companionship. Pine mulch helps keep weeds down and creates an acid soil when they finally breakdown.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Garden Trellis.

     This blog offers information taken from my book. Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming.
 Summer gardens involve plants that need to be trellised. French intensive methods use deep cultivation This means deeper roots. With deep roots below the ground, you will have taller plants above the ground that need staking. There are many ways to stake or trellis your plants. Different varieties of vegetables do well with different  trellis ideas. Consider what is easy, what helps the plants grow, what discourages insects and diseases and what makes easy access for picking. That means there may be compromises in order to take all those things into consideration. I like to recycle or utilize available resources that are readily available. Bamboo is an excellent material. People with bamboo on their land often welcome someone who wants to harvest it. It takes a few weeks or months for it to dry out if harvesting green bamboo. So harvest a combination of dry and green to work with. I have been able to score wire of different sizes. Branches sometimes work as well. Another idea is to use existing plants as a trellis. Examples: Sunflowers can be inter planted with cucumbers. The cucumbers climb onto the sunflower stalks. The sunflowers provide shade and attract lady bugs that gleam the cukes of small insects. Okra or corn can be used for pole beans. If the okra does very well it may create too much shade for beans. These are examples of poly culture. Poly culture involves planting under or around plants to both utilize space and as useful companions. Example: herbs such as parsley or chives will do well under tomatoes,.peppers and eggplant. Trellises can be creative as well as practical. Consider using the shade they create for plants that want afternoon shade.

Pole beans before and after. This method allows sun down in the middle and easier access to picking.

Cucumbers are grown under a horizontal wire of 5" squares.It is staked about 2 ft. off the ground. As they grow they are pulled through the wire and grow across the top. I crawl down the path and pick cucumbers as they hang down. I can get 4 to 5 bushels from a 25 ft. bed. With this kind of cover there is no room for weeds. I do put a few dill along the edge to attract beneficial insects.
Large tomatoes get their own box. As they grow up though it another tier is added. Once they grow over 51/2 feet they topple over. Since I do not want to climb on a ladder to pick them. Small tomato varieties are grown in a hoop that is 5 feet tall. With many types of tomatoes there are many types of staking methods. One of the keys to growing tomatoes is to let air to circulate in and around the plant to avoid an environment conducive to disease.

Snow peas and sugar snaps are grown in hoops. The entire inside and around the perimeter are planted. the plants support each other. The hoops are 5 ft. tall. They grow to 7 ft. The hoops are placed down the middle of the bed. Around the edge is planted with carrots, parsley, arugula, cilantro or other herbs.

When peas are burned up from the summer sun. Late tomatoes can be planted in their place. This makes for a good rotation.

Peppers and eggplant are planted in a 2- 1 formation. So the trellis is created into diamonds. Each plant grows through the triangle or diamond and lays over the horizontal bamboo pieces.