In nature, as with life, everything is connected. Symbiotic relationships are ever-present.
Much of middle Tennessee crop land is misused or not used at all. The way crops are grown currently for exporting out of state is increasingly under scrutiny by scientists and the public alike for their questionable affects on the environment, the economy and our health. On the other hand, Tennessee’s cultural and economic heritage had always revolved around small, sustainable farms growing food crops and pastured livestock for local consumption. As of today, organic, local foods continue to be the fastest growing sector in the national food economy, although they are not readily available to most Tennesseans.
- What is Tennessee’s crop land being used for now, and how is it being managed?
- Where does Middle Tennessee’s food now come from?
- If properly managed, how could middle-Tennessee’s farmland provide a large portion of middle-Tennessee’s diet?
- What affects does the present agricultural system have on Tennessee’s environment, economy, population health and rural social networks compared to what would happen with a shift towards local organics and small farms?
- It’s hard to change a diet, or a farmer.
- A highly centralized and extremely profitable (for a few) system is already in place, with overwhelming political, economic and military clout.
- Public indifference to agricultural policies, coupled with widespread misunderstanding of various farming practices, keeps serious environmental, economic and health issues under most people’s radar.
- The food system in place is not set up for the distribution of healthy, local food.
- There is a lack of education and training for farmers beginning in organic agriculture.
- Nashville has recently become a city noted for local food.
- Agriculture pollution is rampant, rural economics are devastated, and our population’s diet of products grown and processed elsewhere is creating serious health problems.
- Middle-Tennessee’s unique climate and culture offer the opportunity to sustainably grow and process the crops needed for a large part of our diet.
- A proliferation of organic gardens and diversified, sustainable farms would greatly benefit the middle-Tennessee community immediately by reducing agriculture pollution, reviving rural economies and providing fresh, healthy, local food for everyone.
Below in an excerpt from a garden consultation that Jeff did last week. Maybe it could help you gain some insight into your own backyard garden!
Your garden needs humus, Find this black soil underneath where cows are fed and coat the garden area a few inches deep. I suspect a 50 pound bag each of rock phosphate and jersey greensand would also be beneficial for the phosphorous, potassium and trace elements they contain. Just fling it out over the garden.
You need to keep a few rolls of your hay. Get it from the first cutting, which should be done before it goes to seed. In your situation, you have to keep the weeds down while you are away in Nashville. The frost hardy crops can be mulched right away: potatoes, onions, lettuce, swiss chard, beets and such. Let the ground thoroughly warm up before you mulch tomatoes, peppers, squash and other later crops. They like it hot.
Establish a perennial bed for rhubarb, asparagus, berries, etc., and plant the sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme with them.
Blueberries are slow to get going, but make sense for you to pant now. Put out a few dozen of what your neighbor recommends. Keep them mulched and add plenty of black, rotted (this is very important- must be rotted to the point that you can not tell what it used to be) organic materials. We keep the blooms picked off for the first few years to encourage the plant to grow big before it comes into production.
Thornless blackberries are quicker to start bearing, usually the year after planting. They require a trellis to grow on. They also like organic matter, compost and mulch.
The secrets of manuring are now being discovered in the fields of soil microbiology, and the incredibly rich interrelationships there. When we choose to refuse chemical fertilization, we instead rely on these complete interactions to supply our crops with the nutrients they require for proper growth. At the top of the list is nitrogen, and how our plants get it is of vital importance.
Bacteria and fungi supply other soil microbes with nitrogen in the form of amino acids, a live nitrogen, so to speak. Silica plays a crucial role, as the transport system for getting amino acid nitrogen into the plants through fungal hyphae, which are silica-based. Calcium is needed, too, to help move the nitrogen around. When a plant sends a signal that it is ready for nitrogen, sap pressure, via boron, allows for calcium to gran nitrogen in a pure form and it is moved into the root zone through the silica-rich tubes of the mycorhyzae.
When a plant needs water, it should receive pure water, with no soluble fertilizer in it that it didn’t ask for. This would cause an imbalanced growth, creating susceptibility to insects and disease. This is a major reason not to use water soluble, chemical fertilizers.
In a live humus soil, there is plenty of nitrogen in the life forms there, existing as amino acids, Nitrogen dispersant when any being excretes or dies. Nitrogen-fixing microorganisms make sure the plant, whose root exudates feed the soil life, gets what it needs.
When we add chemical nitrogen in the form of nitrate, three things happen that make it necessary to use chemical nitrogen again:
- Nitrogen fixing microbes die, because they can’t survive singing in their own excrement and dead bodies.
- Fungal activity is compromised because nitrate is antagonistic towards silica.
- It takes the plant about ten times as much energy, which it makes by photosynthesis and the conversion of sunlight into sugar, to use nitrates as it would to use the nitrogen in amino acids. Nitrates from chicken litter are still nitrates, and poison soil life.
Once we destroy the nitrogen fixing microbes and the fungi that helps move the nitrogen, the plant will use up the nitrate, wasting energy and quickly needing more nitrogen. It not becomes apparent why farmers buy so much nitrogen. Once they’ve been tricked by the “experts” to use chemical fertilizer, they have to keep using it. The experts are paid through the chemical companies.
Luckily, compost can come to the rescue. We can reinoculate our soils with the beneficial microbes the chemicals destroyed. With cover cropping, rotations, and animals, farmland quickly revives and healthy crop growth returns. We just have to consider these microbes, and we will avoid compaction, chemicals, and anything else that hurts them.
The potassium and phosphorus fixing microbes are in the same boat, they are destroyed by chemicals that supply these nutrients. Water soluble fertilizers put them out of work and they are gone- again, good farming practices return them. These are some of the secrets of manuring, which are very real and important mysteries.
Below is an excerpt from this past Monday’s consultation. Winter is a great time for consultations, to get you ready for what to do in the following year. It is also our most free time, so you are more likely to be able to schedule something with us now!
The 6th annual Tennessee Local Food Summit began almost right on time. With excellent facilities at Tennessee State University’s downtown campus, the event ran from December 2 through December 4, 2016. A partnership with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has made sponsorship easier, and the Nashville local food community pulled it off elegantly. Our deepest appreciation goes out to TSU and all of those involved.
A food systems development project recently announced by Metro Nashville was awarded to Ken Meter. Ken’s discussions at the last four Food Summits have proved the merit of this decision. He continues to guide us into the next growth stage of producing and consuming more local food to increase local jobs, small farms and better health.
While Laura Wilson moderated a panel discussion with Ken, Tasha Kennard from the Nashville Farmers Market and Alan Powell of Nashville Grown, Hugh Lovel from Australia explained the science behind organic agriculture. Meanwhile, Chris Robbins from TSU and I led a talk on access to land and education for young, beginning farmers.
After more talks and appetizers from Farmhouse Restaurant, Joel Salatin took a national look at local food. There is a lot going on, some positive and some negative. The demand is growing, but industrial organics threatens to usurp the markets with imported hydroponic “organics”, large mono crop plasticulture and legislation that hinders small local farms. Joel’s humorous insights put it all into perspective, and a fabulous dinner was provided by the Pegleg Porker, Two Goats, and other local chefs.
Saturday was chock full of panels, informal talks and lectures. Susana Lein and Cliff Davis described their permaculture crop production while Johnny Mitchell from Georgia gave samples and instructions of time honored meat preservation. A special guest, Will Harris, described hi large operation in Southern Georgia. It’s a livestock and CSA farm complete with an on-farm slaughter house, a restaurant and a store, employing 90 people and thus reviving a small town’s economy.
Nashville’s own James Beard award winner, Tandy Wilson, joined up with Philip Krajeck and Trey Cioccia to talk about the farm to table restaurant business. David Cloniger from Second Harvest food bank described their efforts to procure and now grow fresh produce, and Bill Keener talked about dairy cows. Carolyn Hoagland from Sewanee’s University of the South gave a lecture on soil microbiology.
The next sessions included Tradd Cotter from North Carolina explaining organic mushroom farming and using fungi to bioremediate everything from garbage to oil spills. John Compton from Vanderbilt University talked about efforts to get local food into hospitals and schools while Eric Zizka from Oak Steakhouse gave a chef demonstration.
Lunch was another phenomenal local farms to local chefs extravaganza and gave us time to examine the 30 or so vendors at the trade show. Then we began again with talks on land access, farmer education, the grocery business, fermentation, and cover crops. Steve Diver from the University of Kentucky discussed on-farm micro organisms and growing organic transplants, and John Bell described his 500 member CSSA and livestock farm and their eight year rotation plan on 200 acres in Kentucky.
We gathered for a plenary lecture by Larry Kopald of the Carbon Underground. Now we see the big picture of climate change and the role agriculture plays. The survival of a planet we can inhabit will depend on a major shift to carbon sequestering farming within the next decade.
John Ikerd wrapped up the busy day with a plea to end hunger. He grew up in a time when most communities got most of their food locally, with plenty of jobs and no hunger issues. He became an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri and helped usher in the “green revolution”, which was to feed the world with industrial agriculture. In 1967, 5% of the U.S. was considered underfed and hungry.
He saw it unfold as a tragic failure. Industrial agriculture grows less than 30% of the world’s food supply, created climate change by destroying 70% of the worlds top soil, and has raised the U.S. hungry population to 15%. It only benefits a few businessmen.
On Sunday we visited a model, small organic farm and saw it in action. Farms like this feed 70% of the world today. Small, local farms have never ceased to be the way most people get their food.
We continue to promote local food production and consumption, and firmly believe that as Tennessee once fed itself, it will again. Only this will review rural economics, secure small family farms, provide better health, and turn agriculture around from putting carbon into the atmosphere to bringing it back into the soil where it belongs.
Below is an excerpt from a consultation report Jeff wrote up for someone after visiting their farm.
With your 7500 square feet of bed space in mind, here are my suggestions.
I would ensure a good crop by incorporating:
– 50 lbs green sand
– 50 lbs granite dust
– 50 lbs kelp
– 50 lbs rock phosphate
– 200 lbs lime
– 50 lbs wood ashes
Spread on the well mown grass and plowed in by the 9 point chisel plow that has the 3 center tines removed, which is where the grass path will be. When I got to the end the first time, I would turn around and rebreak one bed while creating a new one. This would keep it all well laid out.
One week later I would spread 1/2″ of biodynamic compost on each bed and work it in the same way. The waiting period is valuable to let the microbes do their thing undisturbed. We may want to go over it again in another week, depending on how it works up.
If the minerals aren’t there, we can ad them later. All of this needs to be done pronto, before heavy rains set in.
We will need a small cultivating tractor, if that’s how we want to tent it. An out turned disc hiller could be put on it that would act as an edger. White clover is particularly invasive in such situations, as is Bermuda grass, of course. I don’t know what is there right now.
For all spring crops (planted before last frost date), I would leave the beds rough plowed and unplanted over winter. For summer crops I would harrow in wheat and vetch for winter cover crops. We would want these next to themselves so we could work them up at different times of the year, keeping in mind the chisel will be set to do two beds at a time. The harrow can be offset to do just one bed at a time.
A note to our CSA members.
Thinking of You Always
When we sort potatoes in the middle of the week, I wonder what you‘ll do with them when we bring them to you on Monday.
Then when we sort butternuts I wonder if you‘re making pies with homemade crusts and plenty of cinnamon.
I think about you all the time.
When we pick radishes I wonder if youlike them better on salads or roasted in your oven, and as I pick out the prettiest turnips for you, I wonder if you are mixing them in with your mashed potatoes, or just cooking the greens with some bacon and onion.
While I am picking flowers for you I wonder which flowers your little one is going to think are the prettiest, and while I am picking eggplant I can’t help but wonder if you are making baba ganoush.
Picking the green beans makes me think about you steaming and baking them (both with garlic of course), and I wonder if you ever pressure can or blanch them for a winter time revival.
I can’t pick a kale leaf without assuming you‘re making kale chips, and picking the arugula and mizuna gets me so excited about all of the possible things you could be doing in your kitchen!
It is true that the rows are long, the sun is hot, and the bushel baskets are heavy, but thinking of the food and you getting to eat it makes it so so fun . There are 100 of you, and we think of and appreciate you always.
Thank you for letting us feed you!
The mid-October garden report finds the farm in pretty good shape. We survived festival season and got a lot of much needed clean up done. Tomatoes and peppers are dwindling, but the fall beans are banging. Besides six rows of blue lake, we have many rows of October beans whose time has come.
These were sown in the old potato field in late July, along with long gone cucumbers and yellow squash. Above them we have rows of arugula, mizuna, ale and turnips. A field of purple tops and mustard are growing at the very top.
A half acre of greens followed a summer garden, planted in early August. Bok choys and chinese cabbage were started here and then transplanted out to other fields. Next to several rows of our own flat leaf kale we have a big collard patch and one row each of Red Russian, Siberian, and Dwarf Scotch curled kale. A young spinach patch is starting to poke up.
The squash field is in assorted greens daikons, awaiting Sandor Katz’s Nov. 5 workshop and inspiration to make kimchi. A taste and sharing of muscadines was heavenly. The last pears were the very best.
In the store house we are busy sorting sweets and butts, our affectionate name for sweet potatoes and butternuts. They look (and taste) good. We still have irish potatoes to look through, too.
The barn loft has plenty of onions and garlic left. We have the new garlic beds planted and about half mulched. I’d like to get some ground composted and plowed for an early onion crop next spring.
It’s beed a good growing year, with plenty of rain most of the time. We thank the gardens with cover crops of buckwheat, crimson clover, wheat, rye and peas And we thank all of our customers, from far and near, who support local organic farming.
About six months ago David approached me with a job he thought I might be interested in. He manages Second Harvest Food Bank and has been getting donations from our farm for many years. David has a goal to be able to offer more fresh produce, and he had a plan.
Jess had recently purchased a big farm out on River Road and was willing to donate some land and resources to create a community garden. I met with David and his helper Becky, along with Jess and her helper Dustin. As I’d done similar projects before, I could give them a realistic idea of what it would take to grow an acre garden to give away at Second Harvest.
I revisited the farm a few weeks later and drove around the 300 acre property. We talked about mob grazing cattle, a deer fence around the garden spot, and the vision for the farm. Jess loves horses and envisions a community farm where teenagers can enjoy horseback riding. She also likes the idea of farm to families and exposing people to growing food.
Now that the project had the green light, I measured the plots, noting a wet spot in the middle. We checked out a nearby spring, and plowed four beds for the berry patches. Potatoes and corn were on our minds, along with a row each of cucumber, beans, squash, lettuce, tomatoes and a row of flowers.
On the spring equinox I stirred the biodynamic preparations and applied them over the whole garden area. I met Ken and Lucy from KDL Farms and looked at some old manure. It seemed composted enough and they graciously offered it to the project. Dustin hauled two 10 ton loads and soon it was incorporated. Meanwhile, we checked out two 140 Farmall tractors in Clarksville, before deciding to just fix up Dustin’s grandpa’s tractor.
Within the week we got the potatoes in. Second Harvest sent a crew over to cut 450 pounds each of Red Pontiac and Kennebec, and then dropped them into the furrows made with the tractor. We skipped over the wet spot, and the tractor straddled the rows to cover them up.
Ten days later I harrowed over the field, to prevent evaporation and disturb the surface weeds. Dustin helped me set out the berry patch, which are four different beds, 75 feet long. The Heritage Raspberry and thornless blackberry came from our farm, and Jess had bought 15 blueberry and 10 grape plants.
I dropped in a few weeks later to harrow the potato patch again. Frequent stirring of the soil keeps it loose, aerated and weed free. Another biodynamic preparation was stirred and applied, and I checked on our berry patch.
My new intern Chris joined me on May 8th to plant the rest of the garden. I chisel plowed and harrowed the field, and then laid off 26 rows. He dropped G-90 bicolor sweet corn into 16 rows, and Incredible into 4 more. I planted one row each of cucumbers (Marketmore and National Pickling), green beans (Blue Lake and Roma), summer squash (yellow prolific straightneck), zinnia (Giant Dahlia), four kinds of head lettuce (Freckles, Fenberg, Avenue and Nevada) and tomatoes (14 each of Cherokee Purple, Parks Whopper, Pink Girl, Big Beef, Tiren Paste and Bradley). A small patch of large leaf basil was sown at the end of the tomato row, and Dukat Dill with the cucumbers. I also cultivated the young potato plants.
Two weeks later I cultivated everything and hilled up the potatoes. The wet spot in the center of the garden had dried up, so we planted four rows of butternut squash there. I finished the day up with another stirring and application of the biodynamic horn manure.
On the second day of June I returned to plow out the garden and check on it. The soil is beautiful and everything was thriving. I’m planning a compost operation utilizing the daily cleanings from the horses somewhere near their barns, with the turning to happen as we move it closer to the garden area about six months later.
Within the week I came back to hill the corn, cultivate the other vegetables and plant a row of late summer squash below the tomatoes. David came and he got a tractor lesson and we made tomato cages.
On my 13th visit to the garden I staked up the grapes and felt they were getting ignored. I could see why, the garden is huge and starting to produce a lot of food. It will take more than just David to keep up with harvesting, mulching and weeding. As in other projects I’ve done, the summer squash did not get picked and became as large as clubs which are big enough to beat up the guy who planted all this stuff. I take it as a sign that my job is basically over.
The team made this garden possible. Dustin came through with the compost and tractor, David with the helpers, and Jess with the deer fence and beautiful land. My erratic schedule made it hard to organize an official educational day, although I believe we all learned a lot. We will soon be digging a bumper crop of potatoes, harvesting fresh corn, cucumbers, beans, squash and tomatoes, and enjoying the flowers, lettuce, dill and basil. I have high hopes that this is just the beginning of another great community garden, supplying tons of delicious produce to a wide variety of people.
The 6th annual Tennessee Local Food Summit is at TSU’s downtown Avon Williams campus on December 2-4 this year. Local food means many more jobs, food security, better health and revitalizing family farms.
According to Joel Salatin, “Local integrity food will enjoy a huge boost from the Tennessee Local Food Summit in December. For enthusiasm, inspiration and how-to, this is the place to be.”
Joining Salatin will be Sean Brock, Hugh Lovel and other leaders spearheading the local food movement. Expect a vibrant trade show, invaluable networking and plenty of local food. Brought to you by Barefoot Farmer, LLC and Tennessee State University College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences.
Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to strawberry fields. The harvest is real. Gallons upon gallons are picked every few days, and we are not selling them. Instead, we are trying to set a new Long Hungry record for desserts.
Besides simply eating too many strawberries, the kitchen crew has produced pies, tarts, cakes, cream roll ups and other red, juicy delights. We are also freezing a lot for next winter. Jams and wine seem to loom in our future as well.
Strawberries are planted in the fall. I’ve made the mistake of spring planting, and this involves a whole spring and summer of weeding. Market gardeners often follow a summer crop with a September planting of strawberries, and then pull them out after the May harvest, allowing for another summer crop. All they need is a few months of growth before winter, not a whole summer.
We had some leftover landscape cloth from an old watermelon patch, and it was folded up and had slits cut into it at two feet apart. Chandler plants were set and watered a year and a half ago. Last year a beautiful harvest kept us jamming all winter, and I decided to leave the patch in. We are sure glad about that.
A floating row cover protected the plants last winter, after the runners filled up the bed. As we weeded them it looked like they were too thick. The cover was pulled off in the spring during bloom so the bees could get in there to do their thing.
Deer love strawberries, so a big fence is required. Compost is their fertilizer of choice and weeds are the main problem. Keeping the grass and other plants away allows the berry plants to thrive and take over the patch. We’ve had no other issues besides the tedious task of daily picking.
The berries are perfect, heralding the new season on the farm. Gertrude the Guernsey plays no small part in the strawberry festival, with her fresh cream, butter and yogurt. Add farm fresh eggs, some sugar and flour, and let your imagination ignore your calorie intake. There is something to celebrate everyday.
Strawberry patches need renovation every few years. They tend to grow up so thickly they shade each other out. Yields decrease after a few years, but runners can be transplanted to a new spot. This is how you have strawberry fields forever.
Planning plantings to provide people who’ve previously pledged payments with plenty of produce places particularly peculiar and perplexing parameters around the potential possibility of periodic over productions. It is way too easy to grow way too much.
Our first plantings pose no problems. We can never grow too many onions or potatoes. These storage crops are always in high demand, and we are able to off load extras.
On the other hand, when it comes to summer squash and cucumbers it is easy to overload everybody. Unless you make pickles, who needs a peck of cucumbers? And surplus summer squash has neighbors locking their screen doors.
I plan for about 150 families, and plant accordingly. This supplies a 100 member CSA, a restaurant, some other accounts, and leaves us an abundance to put up and give away.
The rows average about 300 feet in length. Fifteen rows of beets will get everyone in a pickle. Twelve rows of lettuce makes sure everybody gets lots of heads. Three rows each of swiss chard and celery provides plenty of weekly pickings, although just one row of parsley suffices. Unless you really relish radishes, two rows work well. Two rows of carrots is all we want to keep weeded, but we all could eat more.
Successive plantings are the way to deal with beans, squash, cucumbers and corn. Yesterday we sowed an 80 day variety along with a 90 day one of sweet corns. We will do the same two or three weeks later. Three rows each of summer squash, cucumbers and green beans were also sown, and I’ll wait until June to plant more of them. A third planting happens in July, and this gives us fresh pickings throughout most of the summer of all of these vegetables. Six rows each of tomatoes and peppers makes everyone happy. Three rows of watermelons are about right, although every year is different with them. One row of okra is all I want to be responsible for picking, and one row of sweet basil keeps many freezers full of pesto.
As for the winter squash and sweet potatoes, I say “the more the merrier”. Like Irish potatoes, we store hundreds of bushels of these crops and divvy them out weekly until Christmas. Having something to sell in the off season is handy, so we don’t mind leftovers.
In the fall we plan for about 1,000 heads each of cabbage, Chinese cabbage, and bok choy. This keeps the kraut and kimchi makers satisfied. A half-acre each of kale, mustard, daikons and turnips is way too much, but they are good cover crops so I just go for it. Four rows of spinach was about right, but I bet I plant more this year.
As market gardeners, we have to grow excess. It’s taken me a long time to learn how not to grow an excess of excess, like the annual plantings of 21 rows of lettuce that comes in at once and half of which bolts. Ponder your plans and prepare your planting for appropriate production.
Educational opportunities abound on a farm and in a garden. Two groups of school kids spent extended stays here last month, and I spearheaded garden projects at two different Nashville schools. I am learning a lot.
Last fall I got a message from Brad, a teacher at High Mowing School in New Hampshire. He had attended our Biodynamic Conference back in 2000 and it “changed his life”. He became a gardener and then a garden director at this Waldorf High School, and wanted to bring some students down for a week in April.
It was chilly spring weather, so instead of the campground and outdoor facilities they used the new barn and my kitchen. Fifteen New England kids, ranging from freshman to seniors, experienced a Tennessee farm. We dug out briars, weeded the onion patch, cleaned up the berries and took long hikes.
When they piled in the house to get warm and rest, I was pleasantly surprised to see them all reading books. They had smart phones but weren’t obsessed with using them. Livi knitted a hat for my grandson, Austin asked questions about his garden, and Feona explained the contrast of comedy and evil in Shakespeare’s plays. It was good to see higher education alive and well
Soon after they left, Linden Waldorf school had their annual 3 day adventure for the 3rd graders. Now we really had fun, running around and being 10 years old. We had bonfires and played in the creek. A treasure hike up Grissom holler yielded lots of geodes for them to take home.
A few years ago I double dug four garden beds for them, and they asked me back. A group of teachers and parents came to the workshop on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I explained the concepts of opening up the deeper layers of soil, minerals, composting and soil biology. Then we got to work and removed the topsoil, loosened up the subsoil, pushed the adjacent topsoil on to it, loosened that subsoil, and continued down the beds.
We added lime and wood ashes for minerals, and raked in the compost on top. Lettuce, radishes and green onion sets were planted after an hour of stirring horn manure and applying it. Several folks were inspired to dig in their own garden beds so the plant roots could really penetrate deeper.
A friend of the farm from Davidson Academy invited me to dig a garden for them. The soil was really compacted and we had to use the pick a lot more than the shovel. We added a few buckets of sand from the nearby volleyball court to help keep the clay loosened up, and we also stirred up some horn manure. The students and teachers enjoyed the afternoon, and we soon had the quick growing salad garden of lettuce, radish and green onions planted.
Kids offer a fresh and nonjudgmental attitude that opens me up. The awe and wonder of discovering new things and new capabilities in themselves is food for thought and introspection. The world will be taken over young people, and that’s a good thing.
I have good news and bad news. First the bad news. There is more carbon in the atmosphere than is healthy for our planet, and it takes 25 years for the carbon we’ve been emitting to get up there. So there will be much more in the next few years.
What happens when too much carbon is in the atmosphere is up for debate. Rising sea levels, weird weather patterns, and some sort of greenhouse effects have been predicted. The known fact is that the carbon in the atmosphere 200 years ago was 265 billion tons, and today it is 402 billion tons. This is measurable.
Carbon is not a bad thing. It is necessary for life. We live on a carbon-based planet. All things alive or that were alive have carbon in them. Nature has a wonderful way of working. Animals breathe out carbon dioxide, and plants take it in. Through photosynthesis, sunlight on leaves brings carbon into the plant, forming carbohydrates like sugar and starch. We get it by eating plants and animals.
The good news is that plants also send carbon into the soil This is called carbon sequestration. A teaspoon of good, rich soil has billions of tiny microorganisms in it, and each one needs carbon to live. As a plant photosynthesizes, carbon goes from the air into the soil, if the soil has these carbon-needing microbes in it.
The problem is that 70% of the world’s agriculture land no longer has the little live things in it. They get killed by tillage, chemicals and antibiotics. “Bio” means “life”, so antibiotics means “opposed to life”.
Scientists have recently reported that by regenerating soil with these live microorganisms, enough carbon will be brought back out of the atmosphere and into the soil to avoid negative climate change. When you grow cover crops and till less, you raise the organic matter of your garden or field. This is a measure of the increase of carbon in your soil.
More good news is that giant corporations are wanting to help. It will be business and economics that help us shift from putting carbon into the atmosphere to pulling carbon back into the soil. Composting is key to propagating the beneficial microbes, and good farming practices will bring about a reversal of carbon going up to carbon coming down. A good source of information iswww.thecarbonunderground.com. With organic farming to rescue, maybe we can keep driving cars.
March is the compost month. The cows have cleaned up the hay and are eagerly awaiting the greening of the pastures. By harrowing where they’ve been, old hay and cow pies get spread around and mixed with a little soil. This is called sheet composting, where the decaying and rebuilding of humus happens directly on the fields.
In places that cows have been fed rolls of hay we pile up the resulting manure, hay and soil mess into windrows five feet tall and ten feet wide. They may be 100 or more feet in length. A concavity is created on top of the pile by inserting the front end loader bucket and backing up. This is done to allow rainwater to soak in, and also gives access for air flow.
Last year’s compost is loaded into the manure spreader and flung out on the garden areas. The first priority is the potato patch. It then gets chisel plowed and harrowed, ready for the ton of seed potatoes that are cut up in baskets down in the cellar.
The early spring garden is also ready for seed. A row of English peas is already up, and a quarter acre of onions are in. A couple of cold frames have lettuce up, and the others are ready for tomato seeds.
The rich earthy smell of the compost is such a pleasure to breath while it is spread. It is quite the contrast to the unusual practice of spreading the toxic waste products from the new industrial chicken houses we are trying to keep from overrunning our lovely community. With a NPK value of only 2-3%, farmers will surely quit angering their neighbors, fouling the air and polluting the water table with dead birds, antibiotics and who knows what else.
A neighbor brought over the clean out from the stockyard, and it would have been horrible to spread. Instead, I added soil and old compost to it, made the windrows and will let it ferment down into sweet smelling compost before it is used. All of our piles get our homemade biodynamic compost preparations in them when they are made and after they get turned.
There has been much March mulching. Berry bushes love old hay or rotten wood chips around them. I’ve been threatening to put the old tin from the barn reproofing underneath the orchard trees to smother grass. It’s unsightly but effective. And as we march through the garlic beds, weeding and mulching, the delicate pastels of March’s redbuds, maples and wooded hillsides foretell of April’s showers and flowers, and what may come gushing forth in May.
We sat in the field, letting the sun kiss our skin while we watched the butterflies and fairies play, and the wildflowers and grass dance. Our fingers worked to pull up the weeds that were choking the garlic and stealing their food, and in return they thanked us, one by one, with a deep sigh of relief.
At lunch we ate food that was more alive than we were. It made our insides stand up straighter and our brains spring up higher. We had started to feel it earlier from the air and the soil, and we thought we heard it whispered among the insects and the trees, but now we were sure- it was getting to us.
Things were changing. We were seeing deeper, clearer. It was all connected, we were all connected, everything is connected.
We wandered up the hill, higher and higher, and our bodies started to feel even lighter. The kale spoke to us of the past and the future, and the cows so readily shared with us their essence and ways of being. How intricate, how deep, how universal every little part is.
Back into the woods the trees towered us and stood openly and honestly, not pushing their message onto us, but allowing us to see it and feel it ourselves. The creek hummed, and sang, and sparkled and wished, and we danced along beside it, winding and moving to the rhythm we heard.
Hours passed this way before anyone realized the sun had turned angry and against us, burning us with the same fire that it had kissed us with earlier. The brush was too thick, the trail was too treacherous, and our enthusiasm to continue was dwindling.
Now my body is sore, my skin is hot, my head is aching and I am so painfully aware I did not drink enough water. The highs are too good to give up because of the lows. I am an addict. I can not wait until morning comes, the rooster crows, and I can jump up to milk my cow and get high on farm life again.
Pastures can get compacted, acidic and in need of renovation. I’ve been doing some things to improve our hillsides. The soil color is getting darker and the texture looser, so maybe I’m on the right track.
The most important aspect of grazing cattle on pastures is to keep them off of it. The grass needs to be able to grow back for a few months with no animals grazing it. This allows the roots to grow deeper into the decaying organic matter left over from the last grazing.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has been helping farmers with cross fencing and water systems, because resting pastures conserves soil. Ideally, animals should eat the tips of the new growth, tromp in the majority of growth, and then move off of it to let it regrow. The alteration of grazing and rest builds soil.
Another good idea is key line plowing. I take a transit and find the level contours along the hillside. Then the chisel plow, with every other shank removed, is pulled along the contour making four inch trenches, two feet apart. Water that is flowing down the hill gets caught in the trenches, soaks into the soil, and is used later in the summer rather than running off to the creek.
Lime is the cure for soil acidity. I like to apply a ton and a half per acre every two or three years It helps to do this in connection with loosening the soil by chisel plowing. Litmus paper is a good way to check soil PH.
In late February I mixed oats, fescue and red and white clover seed together in a five gallon bucket. I walked over the hillside flinging it out. Then I harrowed the field to knock down the ridges and cover the seed.
I also use the harrow after the cattle have grazed a paddock. This scatters the cow pies out and slightly tills the field. It seems to really help with the fertilization.
Cute spring calves are hitting the ground, and trees are budding out. Plants are springing up out of their winter sleep, and I am wound up like a spring, planning gardens and farm activities. The pastures will soon spring back to life, with the extra bounce from winter’s pasture renovation. Happy Spring!
Spring Equinox has come and gone, and we are still walking around as if in a dream from all the great energy that you all brought to our farm. How thankful we are to have so many people bring such goodness to the farm that the plants in the upcoming season can then use to grow strong and healthy!
We also don’t like to leave home, so it’s nice that you all come here to party with us.
Our thoughts on the event
We loved the overall vibe of the event, and we loved how everyone loved and partied in a mellow, cool way. We loved the music, dancing, flow toys, personality and kitchen donations you all brought to share, and we loved the respect and kindness we saw people show themselves, one another, and our farm. Although only about half of our attendees donated to the event, we want to thank everyone who did. Your financial support helps us keep the farm going, and we are thrilled to be able to make an extra payment towards the bank note.
Thank you to everyone for not bringing your dogs and thank you, thank you for allowing us to have a vehicle-free camping space to enjoy nature together in. How beautiful it was! To the 12 or so people who used the unloading area as a parking lot, we hope you make the right decision next time.
Thank you to our vendors and thank you to our volunteers. Thank you also to our attendees who contributed something a little extra to the event.
We are already so looking forward to the Summer Solstice Music Festival, and the Fall Equinox Family Campout that will both be happening later this year. But first, please let us know your thoughts and feelings about this past Spring Equinox by filling out the form below. We want to hear from you!