Here’s Why: White Oak Bark Preparation

The following is a blog post written by Jeff Poppen in response to the question “Why?” after Kristina’s post about a day spent scooping brains out of a cow’s skull. 

An open grown white oak tree can attain a magnificent crown, rounded and easily as wide as it is tall. When you burn the bark, 77% of the left over ashes are the element calcium. Calcium is the element that helps move other elements around, so it is extremely important for the health of plants, animals and humans.

A skull cavity is also round, and houses the brain. The difference is oak bark before and after its time in a skull is the proliferation of enzymes, which are catalysts for biological processes. We put the finished product in small amounts into compost piles, where these new enzymes ( and other microbes) can propagate. The compost will later be spread on fields to support the clay/humus complex.

cows in a field farm

As plants grow, their root exudates wake up soil microbes that can colonize around these food sources and contribute to the plant’s health. The greater the biological diversity in the soil life, the better chances we have for really health crops. The oak bark preparation contributes to this diversity, and is meant to be used in conjugation with five other preparations; yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, dandelion and valerian, all of which undergo a particular process.

Rudolf Steiner gave these preparations as for farms that had the misfortune of applications of artificial fertilizers. They help to bring the soil back up to par. We have found them to be the cheapest way to grow good foods here on our farm.

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Dear Facebook Friends: I Don’t Read My Own Facebook

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have chosen not to look at computers for a variety of reasons. My time is spent outside during daylight, tending plants, animals and farming equipment, or shooting the breeze with neighbors and friends. I value computers and all they offer, and if I’d been born later I’m sure I’d be using them myself.

As it is, I hire that out. Just as I hire out some of the planting and harvesting, or machine work, I have hired Kristina to do computer work. She has done a remarkable job, from typing up my newspaper columns to organizing the website and social media platforms.

Last night I spent an hour looking at my Facebook page, where 5,000 “friends” “follow” me. Looking through the names I found old high school buddies, and great people who have visited the farm that I’d love to reconnect with. After an hour it became clear that I can’t do this, and I barely got through a few hundred names.

flower red zinnia pretty tn organic farm

I’m in a dilemma. Kristina says we’ll have to delete some “friends”, but she doesn’t know which ones are real acquaintances. I feel honored that so many people are interested in the farm, and I treasure the experiences I’ve had with visitors here over the years.

You can help me. Just let me know that you know me. If you’ve tried to connect and I haven’t responded, please do so again. An email or direct message is more reliable, but we’ll be keeping an eye out over the next few weeks to hear from you via Facebook, etc.

My apologies for being obstinate about this computer thing. It is simply unpleasant for me to look at the screen. Kristina is happy to pint out messages that I can respond to with old-fashioned pen and paper. Thank you so much for bearing with me and I really do look forward to hearing from you. Better yet, come visit when you get a chance.

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Cow Skull Biodynamic Prep

I spent this afternoon scooping the brains out of a cow’s skull. Then I helped shove white oak bark into it. Then I helped bury it in a muddy spot. I’ll get back to it after it stays there through an autumn and a winter.

Why

This is one of the Biodynamic preparations that we use on our farm. It is one of the many things that seem to help our gardens, pastures and whole farm organism thrive.

Details

This cow had been on the farm some 25 years or so, and died of natural causes. A neighbor came over and helped Jeff get the cow out of the pasture and into the woods, and remove it’s head.

Jeff and I scraped oak bark off one of our bigger white oaks, being careful to only take the bark with bright red on the inward-facing side. He said the red ones seem to be thriving more.

We ground up the bark, shoved it in the skull, sealed it up, then buried it in a watery spot to sit for an entire autumn and winter. Then we will dig it up, and use it in our preps.

 

Step-by-step

  1. Decapitate dead cow. (Use a sharp knife. Start behind ear, crack off the bone right at the base of the skull where the vertebrae join it. The rest of the tissue comes off in a straight line down).
  2. Scoop out all brain matter.
  3. Gather oak bark. Jeff liked only oak bark that was deep red. He said that seemed to be “thriving better”.
    white oak bark
  4. Grind up oak bark. Steiner says, “crumbs”, and Jeff and I could not agree on what size that meant. We went with the finer grained “like cornmeal” consistency that he liked as opposed to the bigger-chunked pieces I liked. He said that when I start making them then I can do it whatever way I’d like, as Steiner’s lectures are often times up to user’s interpretation.
  5. Stuff ground oak bark in skull. Like, really stuff. He used a piece of wood and hammered it in so we could fit as much as we could.
  6. Close up hole with according to Steiner, something bone-like, but according to Jeff, a rocks or two that he likes for it. That may be another thing I do differently when I eventually start making them myself.
  7. Find a muddy, mucky place that according to Steiner has water flowing over it, and according to Jeff has water. We chose the corner of a pond, and used the tractor to dig a huge hole. Jeff carefully placed the skull in the hole so that it wouldn’t be upside down, then dumped the mud and muck back on top.
  8. Remove after it has been buried through an autumn and a winter.

#farmlifejustgotreal

-Kristina Rossi

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General Overview of Our Planting Schedule

The following is an excerpt taken from a consultation report by Jeff Poppen on a farm in Tennessee giving a general overview and synopsis of our planting schedule:

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In April we plant onion, potato, lettuce, carrot, beet, and swiss chard.

In May we plant beans, corn, squash, and cucumbers. Later in May we plant tomato, pepper, sweet potato, melon, and okra.

In June we’ll replant the early May vegetables for later harvest.

By the end of July, as potatoes and onions come out, we plant fall veggies. These include cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, and then in August as other stuff comes out we plant kale, turnips, mustard, etc.

If you would like Jeff Poppen to come to your small garden or large farm for a consultation, please fill out our consultation form here. 

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What’s Your Opinion?

Here at Long Hungry Creek Farm we like to deliver only the best, highest quality produce. We have these turnips, and we think every single one of them are de-lic-ious, but we heard that some people don’t like the big ones, and some people don’t like the small ones.

turnips vegetables organic farm tn tennessee

What’s your opinion? We want to know what we should leave in the field and what we should take to our customers, eaters and friends.

Big, medium, or small? Is it a texture thing? Bitterness or sweetness kinda thing?

Leave your input in the comments and we’ll use it to shape our harvesting habits accordingly!

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Cave’s Carvings Deciphered

The old carvings in the cave where we store our potatoes have finally been deciphered. They were carbon-dated at about 30,000 years ago, and resemble carvings in Swiss lake caves and one up in the Himalayan mountains. It reads something like this:

To advance from wondering nomads to permanent agriculturalists requires little else than land, labor and love. You will need the split-hoofed grass eaters and to use their impact wisely. Burn bones and rocks and spread the ash and sow the three-leafed, podded knotty-rooted plants. Keep the soil growing useful species alternating every few years with crops for grazing. Eat what makes you feel good and rot the leftovers with dung and spread the compost. Be quiet occasionally and think about important things.

Join us at this year’s Tennessee Local Food Summit, and we will delve into how to feed ourselves and boost our economy following the advice from thousands of years ago.

tnlocalfood.com

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Jeff Poppen’s Op-ed for the 2015 TN Local Food Summit

Tennessee’s 5th annual Local Food Summit again celebrates Nashville’s farmers and chefs and their supporters, who are committed to good agricultural practices, eating better, and stimulating the local economy. Although we can grow almost all of the crops we consume, only a small fraction of one percent comes from Tennessee. Industrial agriculture, from corn and soy to CAFO’s, demonstrates the rural landscape that once fed Nashville from small family farms. 
 
We will be meeting in the old dairy barn of a 450 acre Nashville farm that helped supply Tennessee State University with high quality local food for many decades. Although TSU and my own opinions may differ, we both see the need to increase local food production and consumption now. 
ad for edible revised
 
We both understand the detrimental effects of a fossil fuel dominated agriculture and how to grow healthy food with combing proper animal husbandry and diversified crop production. I feel this is a momentous occasion to set aside differences and work together to promote healthy local food, provide jobs, and improve the care of Tennessee’s land, water and people. 
 
“Humans are coming full circle”, says Professor Roy Bullock, State Agriculture program leader. “We started out growing food along river banks, then got into big ag. monoculture crops, and are now heading towards growing our own food along river banks again”. 
 
The only way we are really going to survive is to get back to basics with small farms and urban gardeners. We are honored to be inviting you to another special Tennessee Local Food Summit on TSU’s farm and campus with good, rich bottom land beneath our feet. 
 
December 4-6, more information at tnlocalfood.com
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Consultation Report

After typing up a consultation report to send to a recent client, I thought, “there is a ton of great information in here that people would probably love to read”, so I had to share with you all. The following is from the most recent consultation Jeff did.                               –Kristina Rossi, Secretary/Business Manager, Barefoot Farmer

Dear ******,

It was great to meet you and your family. The farm has amazing potential, along with lots of work.

Increasing beef production is where I would start. The NRCS, the USDA’s soil conservation program, can assist in cross-fencing and watering facilities. Contact your local extension agent. They may also have good ideas on making and fixing ponds.

The fields need lime. Contact the farmers co-op, or ask a neighbor, about getting a truck to spread 1 1/2 to 2 tons of lime per acre. Any burn piles you make will provide wood ash, which is an excellent source of potassium and calcium.

The land is compacted. Ripping with a chisel plow along the contours would add air, help with drainage and promote biological activity. Your soil is fertile, but too tight. I wouldn’t plow the hay field (where the horses were before the hill) as it leaves the land rough at first. Plow the hill above the hay field and keep the horses there.

Premier fencing offers a catalog with lots of electrical fencing information and products. Books on the subject include Salad Bar Beef by Joel Salatin, Holistic Management by Alan Savory, Ranching Full Time on 3 Hours a Day by Cody Holmes, No Risk Ranching by Greg Judy, and works by Allen Nation, whose magazine is called “Stockman Grass Farmer”. Acres, USA has many of these books available for purchase online.

By moving a herd often, much of your farm will finally be allowed the rest it needs to properly heal. Keeping animals off of land, along with bush hogging the brush, lets the grasses and clovers re-establish themselves. Buying hay for a year or two might be wise because it is like buying organic fertilizer, but that depends on your budget.

The garden behind the house has a bermuda grass issue. Plow the whole thing now, after cleaning out the barn and spreading it on the garden spot. Leaves rough plowed all winter and physically remove the wire roots. Cover crop in summer with any tall, rank growing summer annual- sudan grass, corn, cow peas, sun flowers, and then follow with a winter cover of wheat and peas or rye and vetch.

The corn field has a drainage issue. Remove bermuda grass underneath fence. Sow it into wheat and peas or rye and vetch now, if you can fence out the cattle.

Bush hogging is the cheapest fertilizer, you can constantly add organic matter every time you bush hog. Bring loppers and chain saw and take out low branches along the edges, maybe thin back some trees to increase pasture size. Figure out the barn drainage issue and maybe gutter and cistern the excess water.

Stay in touch, and please come visit if you can.

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Golden Nugget

The one thing I don’t like about sweet potatoes is that they taste better than butternuts. When I reach for a butternut to bake for dinner, my arm involuntarily dips in the adjacent basket and it’s sweet potatoes for dinner again. I would say I hate when that happens, but it’s not true.

How could I forget the day I met her, the Golden Nugget? After collecting scion wood of old fashioned apple trees at Coin and Chelsea’s farm on the other side of Macon County, I was invited into their home.

“I’ve got something for you,” Coin said, and went upstairs. Coming down from the attic with a half bushel basket, I can’t say it was love at first sight. It was simply a basket of dirty sweet potatoes.

“Lay them in a bed in early April, get them out in late May, dig them before frost, put them in the attic and don’t move them again” were the instructions that came with that basket. The last bit of advice was amended with the explanation that “the milk inside doesn’t like to be shaken up or else they won’t keep”, and that his grandfather was growing this same strain every year for over 75 years.

This was 40 years ago, and love certainly grows. Year after year they’re bedded down, set out and hoed, and eventually stored away. The less we move them the better they keep. I’ve trialled a dozen other varieties and nothing comes close to the flavor of her. Beauregard produces more, but they taste watery to me. I only have eyes for the Golden Nugget.

Horse manure is laid in a trench to ferment and heat up the soil that is put on top. Sweet potatoes are buried and sprout up in a month. A few weeks later the slips are pulled and planted 16” apart on ridges made with the cultivator hillers. We hoe them once or twice, and pull weeds in mid-season.

In the fall they are mown and the vines are pulled to one side. The potato plow slowly lifts them out of the ground, and what a beautiful sight it is to see the rows of roots popping out of the ground. we let them dry a bit in the sun before basking up the good ones and hauling them to a barn loft.

Sweet potatoes like warmth, and when first dug aren’t as sweet as they’ll be after a few weeks at 80 degrees or so. An attic perfect because it is warm and dry, but my attic won’t quite fit 400 bushels. Yet you can bet I’ll have a few dozen bushels in my upstairs bedroom.

Sometimes a couple will be curled and wrapped around each other. Baked and buttered, there is not much better. I still like butternuts, but I love my golden nugget.

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Fall Brassicas

Great ground guarantees the growing and gathering of gourmet garden greens galore. We get the soil in good shape by adding lime and generous amounts of biodynamic compost in the spring and growing a garden all summer.  By mid-August, the spring and early summer crops have petered out, and we are ready for fall Brassicas.

On July 10, and again on July 26, I planted a few rows of Chinese cabbages so I’d have plants ready in August for transplanting. The Napa head variety we grow is Rubicon, and we also grow a leafy one called Michihili.

About a month later, we dig them up and put them 18″ apart in a 4′ wide bed. They can get huge, up to 5 pounds each. Chinese cabbages don’t get cabbage loopers as bad as the standard European cabbages do.

This is a Calabrese sprouting broccoli, and you can see that it is more susceptible to these pesky worms.  A covering of Reemay will physically keep the cabbage moths from laying their eggs. There is a bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis, that you can spray on the plants.  It makes worms sick and die, but is safe and non-toxic to other animals.

The baby Bok choy variety is Mei Qing, and it is a lighter green color than the full-sized Jo choy. Both of these are easy to grow and are used in Kimchi, which is a Korean version of sauerkraut.

We chop it up, add salt, cayenne, garlic, and ginger, and then squeeze it with our hands to make liquid come out. It naturally ferments if kept submerged in its own juice for a few weeks, then stores well for several months if kept cool.

Before august 15, it is too early to sow the other fall Brassicas, but on August 17, I was sprinkling seeds. This row of Arugula will add a whang to your salads. It is full of vitamins and must be good for you because it tastes really strong. I’m not too crazy about it myself.

Kale is the queen of the tall greens, and we grow a lot of it. Besides feeding us all fall and winter, kale sends up a small broccoli-like shoot in the spring that we love. I call it “brockali”. We’ve been saving this flat-leaf variety for over 30 years, simply letting a little go to seed, drying it, and threshing it out.

These are Red Russian kale, and this one is a Lacinato type called Toscano. A close relative is collards, and these are Georgia collards.

Tokyo Bekana is a light, leafy fall green, and Mizuna is similar, but more feathery.  Southern Giant is the mustard we are starting, and this will be a patch of purple-top white-globe turnips. Fancy turnips are also available, and we like the white ones, Oasis and Hakurei, and a red one called Scarlet Queen.

Daikons are grown to help break up the subsoil because they are so long. We grow China Rose and Red Meat, too.

Our farm has a ban on spring Brassicas, so there are no early broccoli, kale, or cabbage here. They don’t like hot weather and get buggy by June. I can break the insects’ cycle by not having any in the garden in spring and early summer. The cabbage moths fly around trying to find a Brassica, then become quite frustrated and leave. This leaves the garden free and clear for the fall greens, which grow luxuriously as the season cools down.

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Okra

All garden plants have a history with the various trails they took to find their way into our fields.  The huge and mysterious continent of Africa, especially around Ethiopia, was home not only to our ancestors, but also the ancestors of many cultivated plants.  This is where okra came from.

History is obscure and uncertain, but we can follow okra up to Egypt, where it has been commonly grown for hundreds of years.  Okra also found its way across the Red Sea into Arabia.  From there it spread completely around the Mediterranean and eastward to India.

In our little country, it probably landed with French colonists in Louisiana.  Jefferson mentions it being grown in Virginia, and by the 1800’s, there were several distinct varieties.  Both the words “okra” and “gumbo” are of African origin.

The flowers of okra let you know it is in the Hibiscus family, with the same beautiful swirl of petals as a Hollyhock.  The plants are easy to grow once the soil warms up.  If the soil temperature is 60 degrees, it can take a month to sprout, but it comes up in two weeks at 75 degrees.  When the soil is 90 degrees, okrajumps out of the ground in less than a week.

Some folks freeze the seeds overnight, or soak them in warm water overnight, to help with germination.  Alternatively, you can nick the tough seeds with sandpaper.  I just wait until sweet potato planting time, Memorial Day weekend, and plant okra soon after, along with our lima beans.

Into a regular furrow, we drop about 6 seeds to a foot.  The plants love rain or drought and always make the fall garden look great.  They are simply so ornamental.  This variety is burgundy and makes for tender, slender pods that need to be picked every few days.

We hoe them at first, and then put some hay around them late in the season to keep moisture in and weeds out.  There seem to be no insects or diseases, at least around here.

Okra is slimy; you either don’t like it or you love it.  It’s great for thickening up a soup, if you aren’t dipping it into cornmeal and frying it.  We love it pickled.

The overlooked, unpicked pods get tough and big quickly.  The seeds are used to make a high quality cooking oil, and they can be roasted to make a coffee substitute.  Okra has been with us for much of our history and continues to grace southern gardens with its pretty foliage, flowers and fruit.

 

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Keep Growin’ It

There are many reasons to grow a fall garden and cover crops, poetic as well as practical. “Don’t ever let a weed grow up and go to seed”, “your garden won’t harden with plenty of carbon”, “give back to the land and you’ll have plenty on hand”, “keep the garden growing by cover crop sowing”.

The onions are out, the potatoes have petered, the corn is cashed, the beans are burnt and the squash is squished. Say goodbye to the early summer garden, and hello to fall, my favorite gardening season.

I start broccoli, cabbage and lettuce in mid-July. Well, I try to, but the lettuce won’t sprout when the soil temperature is over 75 degrees. Sowing after a cooling rainstorm in mid-August did get some lettuce to come up, finally.

“Don’t plant turnips until mid-August” I was told a long time ago, and it is sage advice. The winter squash patch was mown and the soil rebroken and then harrowed. On this field I seeded a mixture of crimson clover, a little buckwheat, turnip seed and some lime was tossed out and harrowed in.

Sometimes I use sand instead of lime. Turnip seeds are so little that it is hard to get them spread out over the patch. By mixing the seed real well in a bucket of sand, or lime, you can toss it out and get a more even stand.

The same procedure was used nearby for mustard. The variety is Southern Giant Curled. For this turnip patch I planted the traditional Purple Top White Globe.

In the old bean, summer squash and sweet corn field I also mowed, rebroke and harrowed. I plowed furrows through the whole acre and really started having fun. Fourteen rows of kale may be enough for now.

Arugula is a very pungent green that many people love, proving once again that there is no accounting for taste. It is too strong for me. I planted the milder Georgia Collards and then a lettucey chinese cabbage green called Tokyo Bekena. A new one for us is Koji, a hybrid fall green. Mizzuna is a frilly mustard green we always grow, too.

Red Meat looks like a turnip, but it’s a daikon radish. Inside a pale green, baseball-sized globe is a bright red starburst that is delicious right in the field. The specialty turnips we grow include Girl Feather, the White Hakurei and Oasis, the red Scarlet Queen Red Stems and a yellow one called Amber Globe.

It might be a little early for spinach, but I have to try. We love the old heirloom Bloomsdale Long Standing, and are trying a taller one called Viroflay. Later I’ll plant Flamingo Spinach, another of the new, taller varieties.

When I tried to pay for my October bean seed, Lawrence wouldn’t let me because the seed was two years old. It came up fine. He gave me the rest of the sack a few days later as I had a plan.

The potatoes were fantastic this yera, yielding around 500 bushels. The field was mown, reborn and harrowed, and then soon filled with furrows. A rainstorm threatened. Up and down the 700 foot rows I trotted, dropping beans, and covering them up. I finished at little dark and was on the porch when the rain fell.

A month later they are knee high and about to bloom. A mixture of crimson clover, daikons, chinese cabbage and bok choy was tossed over this acre, and then I laid the field by with the last pass of the cultivator. I have about a month to figure out what to do with an acre of October beans.

Other fall covers for the garden will be mixtures of grains and legumes, such as rye and vetch or wheat and peas. These can be sown later than crimson clover and turnips, who need to be in the soil by mid September. Early November sowings of grains and legumes have done well for me.

So don’t abandon your summer garden. A little seed is all you need. Keep it clean by turning it green. Treat is like you lever her. Tuck her under a cover. And you can still grow it without trying to be a poet.

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You can’t choose your neighbors

Microbes make good compost, compost makes lots of good vegetables, and excess vegetables make for good neighbors. I love my neighbors, and we love to give away vegetables.

What are cooks to do when they retire? Dan the soup man often shows up with a jar of deliciousness, and then forages around the gardens for his next big pot of soup. He has years of restaurant stories, and is a big fan of the farm.

We came in one evening from our farm work, and on the kitchen table sat apple pies with syrup and fried green tomatoes over spaghetti. Needless to say we ate dessert first. I told Wanda I’m glad she retired, and Jack looked right at home in a rocker on the porch.

I busted the mowing machine, but neighbor Chris said he’d help lay the hay down tomorrow. Meanwhile, we’ll be helping Tom get his bales in the barn. It’s likely Inis will have something tasty for the hay haulers. Tom and I are best friends, even though I am a tree-hugging environmentalist and he logged for a living.

Charlene called to tell me about the Cobb chicken house burning down, but there were no chickens in it. I hope the farmer gets out of that ridiculously binding contract. Her and Ronnie raise a good garden so it’s hard to give them vegetables, but the may get some lettuce plants soon.

Judy called to check in yesterday, reporting on the fines for Andy Holt. Apparently the EPA doesn’t like manure in creeks even if you are a senator on the state agriculture committee. She’ll be over soon to get garlic.

Neil snuck down and raided the sweet corn patch. I told him it would taste better if he stole it, but I wasn’t there and he left a little money. I’ll get back by dumping too much summer squash on his back porch.

Donna said she needs a “no spray” sign by her organic garden. It’s very upsetting to watch your land have cancer-causing poisons sprayed on it. The electric company really ought to tell innocent people that if they cut under their lines they won’t be subjected to one of the most deadliest toxins known to mankind.

You can’t choose your neighbors. People living near each other are bound to have different opinions. But we all have things in common, too. Eating vegetables is one of them.

Good neighbors make life pleasant. I still have vegetables that have gone too far and end up making good compost. Compost makes for lots more good good microbes. I guess what goes around comes around.

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Healthcare

Tennesee’s health care industry recently reported a $37,000,000,000 contribution to the economy last year. At the same time Tennessee spent $2,000,000,000 on food. We used to spend a lot more on food and less on health care. They have an inverse relationship, when one goes down the other goes up.

A new CSA member once commented that all the vegetables were causing them to eat at home more. They kind of missed going out to eat and the treats from the grocery store. But by the end of the summer they noticed that neither they nor their children had gotten sick once, and this had never happened before.

Other CSA members tell me their lives have been saved by our food. Doctors will prescribe eating organically in certain sensitive health conditions. An old adage is to let food be your medicine.

I attribute this to the invisible world of microbes. A teaspoon of soil can have a million bacteria in it, or a thousand times that many. I strive for the latter, “the more the merrier” I say.

Ninety percent of the DNA in our bodies does not belong to us, but to other species. These are the microbes who live off of us and our bodily secretions. As their host, they have a vested interest in keeping us healthy and secreting.

In the soil a similar thing is going on, as root exudates feed soil microbes who in turn keep the plants healthy. An important part of our farming practices is creating a vibrant clay humus complex through composting. We use herbs which have undergone a transformation in an animals organ, but in very small, homeopathic doses. These preparations are put into compost piles, which get spread on the cropland.

The food grown on these fields tastes pretty good. A surprising thing our interns learn is how their bodies feel when they live on this. We don’t use grocery stores or restaurants for our nutrition.

Food isn’t all, though. We love good water, straight from the farm’s springs or wells. Fresh air is inhaled often, too, except when I’m tractoring or we are mulching. We also get a lof of exercise.

Nutrition comes through our sense, too. What we see, hear, touch and smell becomes part of us. Currents of light and sound continually pass through us. Enthusiasm mediates this, as a 93-year-old man explained one time.

I asked Cordell to tell Ryan, who was eight, the secrets to a long, healthy life. “Good garden food, exercise, fresh air and spring water”, he said, “but that’s not all. You have to have something you love to do, and I always look forward to the weekend when my friends and I get together to play music”.

We play music, too. Almost every Friday night friends come over to pick a few tunes and fill the air with songs. On a farm there are no days off because of their position in the week, we take off on rainy days instead. When someone mentioned something to one of our interns, Chris, about a weekend, he replied, “the only way we know it’s the weekend is it’s the days after the music party”.

Tennessee has lots of great music, but is neglecting other aspects of good health. of our 2 billion food dollars, 99% of it goes to unhealthy imported food-like products, while we are surrounded by abandoned but potentially productive farmland. it is so exciting to have so much work ahead of us, and to think of how healthy we and our environment will be when we spend 18 times as much on farm fresh food as we do at the doctors office.

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Excerpt on Interns from Local Paper

The following are excerpts from an article that came out in our local paper, The Macon Country Chronicle. The article features our internship program and the interns that we currently have, Tyler, Daniel and Chris. We thought you would all enjoy reading about why our interns are here helping to grow your food this year, along with a little bit about them. 

Tyler Labrizzi said, “I am doing an internship here with the Barefoot Farmer because I think that biodynamics is the keystone to the organic movement, because it brings morality and spirituality into the mix in our age of materialism. I am 22 years old and old time friends of my family, who practice similar agriculture technology, knew about Jeff Poppen and that is how I found out about the internship program here in Red Boiling Springs. I would love to have my own farm someday, and I will take this knowledge with me. Jeff is a wise man and a very good teacher. He also has a good heart”.

Daniel Norris said, ” I am from Nashville and I have been in the restaurant business for over 12 years now. The new farm to restaurant table movement has really taken off in Hasville, and I realized that I had no knowledge of anything on a farm, so that is why I entered the internshiop program here at Long Hungry Creek Farm. Where our food comes grom is just as important as how a chef can prepare it. I am a restaurant manager, but I still want to learn I will remember what I lean here and take it back to the restaurant business with me. Jeff Poppen is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He is a good teacher, good provider and a generous friend. Macon County is beautiful and the citizens are great”.

“I came here to work with the Barefoot Farmer because he knows a lot, he’s been doing it for a long time and I have never worked with a farmer as experienced as him”, said Chris Cree of Ohio. “I’m in school at Warren Wilson College in NC right now where I am studying biochemistry, but my dream is to eventually have a farm of my own somewhere, I hope to absorb everything here and someday take it back to my own land. I came from a big city so being out on this farm is really a nice change of pace for me, where things are quieter and the food is better”.

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Incredible

You are all I think about and all I dream about.

It is embarrassing how excessively I bring you up in conversation,

and my love for you,

the raw and true you,

is so natural and obvious to me

that I am shocked anyone can walk past you without stopping to stare.

The buildup has been too long.

I peel back the layers that cover you and admire your succulent curves.

I know this can’t last forever,

but right here and right now

you are the only thing that matters

and you are the only thing I can not get enough of.

You taste so sweet on my lips and tongue

I become like a ravenous animal

nibbling and licking

and getting your essence and juices all over my face.

But I don’t care and I can’t stop.
You are my sweet, sweet corn.

You are Incredible.

-Kristina Rossi

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GMO’s

The letters “GMO” make many people shudder. “Is the corn GMO?”, I am often asked. Why are people worried about GMO, and what does it all mean?

Genetically modified organisms, GMO, refers to a relatively new method in breeding, where DNA is manipulated in a laboratory by shooting a gene of one species into the gene of another, A famous case is the creation of a cold hardy tomato by inserting the gene of a cold hardy fish, a flounder, into the tomato seed’s gene pool. The resulting tomato could withstand freezing temperatures, but the whole story sounds fishy.

Only third world countries and the United States allow GMO food. It is banned in most countries, deemed unsafe, and not allowed to enter in trade. The main use of GMO’s is called “round-up ready” , meaning the GMO corn or soy fields can be sprayed with the herbicide round-up to kill weeds.

Round-up is by far the most profitable agricultural chemical ever invented. The symptoms of round-up poisoning are anxiety and nerve problems. These are treated with Prozac, by far the most profitable medical chemical ever invented.

When you visit Canada, you’ll find no corn syrup in the Coca Cola or other products. The devastating affects on health are recognized and avoidable. GMO technology may have a place in medical research, but most of the world refuses to take the risk of ingesting it.

Hybrid does not mean GMO. Hybrids have been around forever, as natural crossings of varieties with a species. We make a hybrid by taking the male pollen from a good tasting variety of sweet corn and pollinating the female flower of a corn variety that makes two ears to the stalk.

This seed, an F1 hybrid, will produce a field of good tasting sweet corn with each stalk producing two ears. But if we take this years seed and plant it, most of the crop will revert back to one of its grandparents, so hybrid seed is not saved and replanted.

We follow the example of most of the world and do not use GMO products. But we do plant hybrids. Our first two patches of sweet corn were hybrids, and so are some of our tomatoes and peppers. A hybrid combines many good qualities is a variety, like Better Boy tomatoes or Carmen peppers, but we have to buy seed for them next year.

Open pollinated, or heirloom, means you can save the seed and plant it the next year, which is the old time method. We have to be careful choose the very best for seed so that our strain of that variety improves and does not degenerate. Plants become adapted to the farm and your farming practices, such as kale, sweet potato and garlic we have been propagating for over 30 years.

Thirty-five years ago I hosted an organic conference and seed swap. An old farmer from Georgia gave Darrell some sweet corn seed and he’s been saving it ever since. Darrell came to a lecture I gave to the Master Gardeners and handed me a big bag of seed, and now we have a big patch of open pollinated sweet corn.

We are flagging ears to save for seed. As a community supported farm, our customers can ask me to grow this instead of hybrid corn. I guess they could ask me to grow GMO corn, but I doubt if anyone will.

 

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Tractor Guy

I love our CSA drop off, watching everybody explore and get excited about the vegetables. Recipes are swapped while filling up the bags and baskets, children bounce around and laughter abounds. Even though I’d like to be there, the magnetic pull of the farm keeps me here.

Potato harvest had to happen, as hot, wet soil can cause them to spoil. Now that they’re in the cellar we can breathe a bit, but we’ll use the afternoons to continue sorting them. My role is to plant more for later.

After rebreaking the potato field, furrows were made as another storm threatened. A local feed store gave me a 15 lb sack of old October beans, which I inoculated with rhizobium bacteria. This insures the presence of nitrogen-fixing microbes.

I quickly moved up and down the rows, grabbing a fistful of seeds and sprinkling them. I covered them up with the harrow at dusk, and the rain held off until I was safely on the porch. The July thunderstorms have been intense, with vibrating light shows and intense downpours. What I’m going to do with an acre of shelly beans remains to be seen, but the barefoot farmer CSA will surely help.

In truck farming the land must never be left to itself, to grow up with weeds. As soon as a crop is out, another one goes in. We have to take advantage of all the work and compost, so its always one thing after another.

The old pea patch is now beds of lettuce, chinese cabbage and broccoli, which will get transplanted into the old cucumber and bean field. The old beet land is sprouting up fall cucumbers and beans, and a nearby row of cantaloupe is where we had grown spring onions.

Since I’m the tractor guy, the farm likes me to be here. Plowing, mowing and cultivating, often can not wait a day. We can easily lose a crop to weeds, or hay can spoil, if the tractor guy is gone for a day. My mother said my first word was not “mom”, but “tractor”.

Today I’ll be bush hogging the wonderful corn patch, plowing the other two potato fields, and cultivating the fall plantings. We may move the cows to a new meadow, pull weeds in the celery and chard, and mulch the peppers. I suspect some hoeing will happen, too.

But I assure you there will also be time spent in the swimming hole, fooling around in the kitchen, and sitting on the porch visiting with friends and neighbors. Scribbling these lines on this fine morning, I really don’t know exactly what the day will bring. There are rumors of a blue moon party later, and we never know who will ease up the driveway. We hope it’s you.

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First CSA Newsletter of 2015

One of the best things we can do is give someone a job. I am pretty good at this, as anyone who has visited here for a while can ascertain. By joining the CSA, you have given me a job and I want you to know how grateful I am to have such meaningful work.

We are in this for the long term. Our activities include fencing, haying, and pasture improvement, so that the farm remains a self-sufficient organism. Hundreds of tons of compost are made and spread annually. Biodynamic preparations have been made here for 30 years and we just dug up some beautiful horn manure, which we will share with anyone who wants to stir it up. Barns, roads, tractors and forests also receive attention and care.

I insist that farming be fun, so we throw many parties. Friday nights typically find us playing music on the porch. Forty years of solstice and equinox gatherings have gained an unstoppable momentum, the farm attracts daily visitors, and the swimming hold is often full of laughing kids.

I slip off the farm routinely to try to help others develop organic farms. This really feels important to me for continuity of the local food movement. Networking and celebrating happen a few times a year at the conferences we organize, and I enjoy lecturing occasionally at schools, clubs and events.

Your support helps make all this possible. Six acres of vegetables are planted, with another one to go in soon. This is less than last year, because only 33 people have signed up as of May 28. 

If there is any way we can help you, please let us know. This newsletter now comes directly from the farm and we are open to suggestions, ways to improve the CSA, recipes, letters and love.

The gardens look great and you have an open invitation to visit here anytime, to hike, play, camp and join in the fun. Again, we thank you for the job, and we would be happy to give you one, too.

We love and appreciate you,

Jeff & the crew

 

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To till or not to till

To till or not to till, that is the question. The no-tillsystem works well if the ground is well-tilled, otherwise it is best to till. Tilling works best the less you till, A rototiller  tills too much, destroying soil tilth although it appears to make it look like good tilth. Tillonly until you can no-till, then no-till until you need to till.

If I could insert your hands in a fertile, clay humus complex, and your fingers wiggled around deep into the soil, I could dispense with distracting dogmatic phrases like till and no-till and you would just know. An imagination of happy expanding roots intertwined with exploding microbe populations probably brings truth closer to light than is possible with words. Let’s picture what’s going on in the dark places underneath the soils covers.

Earthworms are way better at tilling than humans. The no-till system would be better named the “earthworm-till system”. We can tell a lot about soil quality by looking at the worms. Few, skinny, pink, dry earthworms indicate poor tilth while fat, colorful, slimy worms in abundance are a good sign.

Balancing minerals helps the worms. Calcium is the key. After incorporating a 50-100lbs of finely ground, high-calcium limestone to every 1,000 sp. Ft. (1-2 tons/acre), it’s a good idea to add some live lime. Microbes are already active in lime that has been in an animal, such as eggshells, ground bones, or rotted white oak bark.

If we have time, a cover crop of buckwheat is an excellent way to mobilize the unavailable form of calcium in the limestone to an available form. Earthworms love buckwheat. Calcium flocculates soil layers by poofing up the clay particles, and the best way for it to get in there is through the earthworm’s gizzard and digestive tract.

Other rot dusts supply other minerals that help create good garden soil. Rock phosphate, green sand, basalt, granite and even wood ashes are good to sprinkle on your garden at about 10lbs to every 1,000 sq. ft (400lbs to the acre). They need to be tilled in either by you or an earthworm.

There are lots of other tillers in the soil, and no better way to employ their help than by adding good compost, Composting is two processes, one of breaking down organic matter, and the other of building up the clay humus complex. Always add clay soil to the compost pile, otherwise you’ll end up with just some good looking broken down organic material. Good compost smears when rubbed between your finger and thumb.

Once we’ve got the minerals and biology working, we are well on our way to good tilth. But we have to break up the subsoil and loosen the ground deeply so the minerals and microbes can do their thing. A no-till garden starts with double digging the beds.

Dig a foot-wide trench about 10” deep at the edge of the bed and take the soil out. Now fork or pick the clay subsoil another 10” deep, but leave it there. Adding sand, limestone and gravel down there is a good idea. Push the next foot-wide strip of soil on top of that and then break up the subsoil underneath it, continuing to the end of the bed. The first soil is then used to fill up the last trench.

Now you can stick a hoe handle 20” deep into your bed and feel extremely satisfied. By keeping the beds only three to four feet wide, we never walk on them again. And by keeping a decomposing mulch on top, we have a no-till garden. I mean an earthworm-tilled garden. Lasagna gardening (layering) works great if the soil is loosened and easily penetrated to a depth of 18 to 20 inches.

In a bigger garden, we also use soil biology to till, but we have to help them a little, Cover crops have roots that create soil tilth, after they are mown in the spring, I slowly run the chisel plow though the garden. This destroys the active soil microbes.

I believe this is where confusion arises with words trying to describe what goes on underground. So let’s use our imagination and picture happy soil microbes living off of the roots of our cover crops, say a stand of crimson clover. Life is good with all the food coming from the clover’s root exudates, and they are making love and having lots of babies. A microbe can have babies at three seconds old, and have lots of great grandchildren by the time they are nine seconds old. It happens fast.

But all of a sudden life is not so good, as the clover is mown and a trench is made through the garden a foot apart by the slowly moving chisel plow. Clover microbes die by the millions, creating food for earthworms and other soil life. But now the gardener must do the hardest thing to do, which is nothing.

We must not keep on tilling, but simply wait a few days and let the soil life till for us. Clover microbes may be devastates, but the summer microbes wake up and say, “it’s about time y’all are gone and we get to make love and have lots of babies ourselves”. So that is what they do, and when we slowly pull the chisel plow through the garden again, the crimson clover givers up the ghost and we retain good tilth.

After a few more days and another pass with a harrow behind the chisel plow, we plant the garden, but only if it isn’t going to rain. We never plant seeds before wet weather, because we want to rake over the rows three days later. This allows us to avoid deeper tillage as we keep the soil always loose on top.

Vegetable loving microbes now quickly dominate the underground scene. We help them, and our tilth, by either mulching or creating a dust mulch. Never use wood chips for mulch, unless they are unrecognizable as woodchips. Hay is our favorite mulch, because our farm produces tons of hay and I like everything to come from the farm.

But I can’t mulch all 10 acres of gardens as we have 35 hungry cows, our winter time compost makers. So, after every rain, when the soil dries just enough to work, with a buttery feeling, we straddle the rows with a small, light cultivating tractor and gently break up the soil surface. This checks evaporation by creating a dust mulch on top of the soil so capillary action, which is moving moisture to the top, cannot move moisture out into the atmosphere. This surface tillage allows us to export 150,000 pounds of produce off the farm annually without ever using irrigation..

Deep fall plowing, and then doing nothing is another great tillage practice so you can no-till later. In the garden, just shovel up the soil and leave it. Winter rains soak in and then freeze, which tills the soil in a very positive way.

Always let nature till for you, until the ground gets compacted and you have to help nature by gently getting some air in the soil. And don’t let words and concepts, like till and no-till get in the way of a lively imagination of what is happening underground, Stick your hands deep into mother earth, stretch out your fingers and think like a plant.

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