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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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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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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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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I recently attended an advanced course in biochemistry. You may not want to read any further. On the other hand, if everything in the world can be reduced to a few unreducable elements, let’s try to learn a little about them.

N, P, and K are the primary elements farmers fertilize their fields with. They stand for nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, respectfully. Plants need these to grow and prosper and can get them in two ways: through the water the plant takes up or through the interaction of soil life.

Artificial fertilizers are water soluble and are taken up in the plant when it needs water. Scientists have determined how much certain plants need and farmers spread this on their cropland. These chemicals inhibit the microbes that allow plants to get these elements naturally, so once you start using them you must continue to apply them.

In the life process of a plant, N, P, and K are actually not the primary elements. Sulfur is the catalyst for carbon chemistry. It’s presence on soil particle surfaces insures that interactions happen, because of its unusually versatile valence states which can range from -2 to +6. These numbers are the amount of electrons missing (-) or extra (+) in the outer shell of an elements atom, so sulfur really makes things happen.

Boron, a component of clay, is released into the soil by the weathering of rocks. Sap pressure in the plant is created by boron. It also draws blood through the capillaries in animals. Without the suction of boron, nothing happens.

Silicon combines with oxygen to form silica, the most abundant part of the earths crust. Sand is silica, and fungal hyphae are coated with it. Silicon forms cell walls, skin, membranes and other surfaces which transport fertilizing elements into the plant. It is obviously extremely important.

Calcium grabs these elements and trucks them along the silicon highway into the plant. Calcium’s positive valence (+2) means that it easily grabs nitrogen and phosphorous and whisks them up into the plant. It is found in limestone as calcium carbonate and in bones as calcium phosphate. Our clay soils benefit from high calcium lime.

Nitrogen is the first element in the periodic table with a missing electron, which is how calcium can get it up into the plant. It bonds with many elements, even itself, and is almost 80% of air. When used as a nitrate fertilizer, the plant has to supply energy in the form of sugar to utilize it, making the plant highly susceptible to insects and diseases. Plants getting nitrogen from amino acids, through the life in the soil, don’t use up their sugar, taste sweeter and resist these problems naturally.

Magnesium is in the center of chlorophyll cells, like iron is in our blood cells. When calcium is lacking, magnesium makes the soils sticky and gummy when wet, and rock solid when dry. Balancing the positively charged cations in the soil (Ca, Mg, K, and Na) is a key to getting the ground loose and fluffy.

In the soil, phosphorous is key to releasing energy, and in the leaf it is key to storing energy, it quickly becomes unavailable in a soil fertilized with nitrates, but becomes available in biologically active humus soils.

Carbon bonds with itself and every other element, providing the framework for life chemistry, we inhabit a carbon-based planet. Plants get carbon from carbon dioxide in the air, so it is never deficient. We will reverse climate change by letting plants sequester atmospheric carbon into the soil, when we shift our farming methods from chemical to organic agriculture.

Most soils have huge reserves of potassium, but in unavailable forms. Biological activity makes it readily available for plant growth. As an electrolyte, it opens and closes cell walls to allow nutrients in and keep wastes out.

Today we made a mineral-rich compost pile. To a couple of yards of compost and rotted woods chips we added: 50 lbs of granite meal, 25 lbs of rock phosphate, 25 lbs of greensand, 25 lbs of diatomaceous earth, 25 lbs of wood ashes, 40 lbs of calcium sulfate, 9 boxes of borax, and a bag of worm castings. We moistened it with barrel compost and stirred it up for an house, put the biodynamic preparations in it and covered it with a tarp. We will spread t thinly in a few weeks.

Life in the soil knows best how to grow healthy plants we injure this life by using harsh fertilizers like nitrates, ammonia, acid phosphates, potassium chloride and potassium sulfate. The only reason to use these it to support the fertilizer industry, which also manufactures these for weapons.

If you’ve read this far, maybe life chemistry is a bit clearer. Just follow USDA and old timers farming advice from 100 years ago, before the advent of the fertilizer/weapons industry. There you’ll learn how to promote the life in the soil by proper crop and animal rotations, cover crops, liming and composting the elements which make up our world can then do what they are intended to do, whether you try to understand them or not.

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First Winter CSA Drop-off

Winter is here and we are thankful for our greens that are still growing out in the ground, the root crops we have stored in warm places, and the summer vegetables we canned in anticipation of a cold, non-yielding winter.

While there is less to do in the garden this time of year, there is still plenty to do around the farm. There is an enormous pile of corn that needs shucking and shelling, rows of spinach and kale to weed and maintain, and cabbage to cover and save as long as we can.

There are also countless fencing projects and barn-repair projects to be done, along with paperwork that was put off during the growing season and a keyline plowing project to save the water that we are lucky enough to have fall onto our farm.

We are trying to pay better attention to our cattle grazing and rotation, and making frequent trips to bring them hay for eating and to look at and appreciate them for all of the fertility they provide the farm with.

There is bread to bake and hominy to make, compost to spread and pigs to care for, but even with all there is to do we could not be happier that we get to step to the beat of the farm life drum.

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Keyline Plowing

Water winds its way downhill, seeking its own level. The Long Hungry Creek swells mightily after a big rain. Lack of moisture in the dry spell limits agricultural production. An obvious question arises, “How can we keep the water that falls on our farms for later use?”
Lateral trenches along the contour come to mind. If the water running down the hill during thundershowers could get caught in a ditch and go sideways at a slower pace, more would soak into the soil. This would work even better when the soil has a higher humus content.
A.P. Yeomans, an Australian farmer, developed a method of contour tillage known as Keyline plowing. A point is chosen on the side of a hill, farthest from either holler. A level line is made along the contour through that point, and its called the keyline. It may drop at a 1% slope towards that point, that is a one foot drop for every 100 feet.
I found a point and set the transit up. With my bundles of orange flags, I walked along the hillside while Betsy sighted through the transit and kept me on level. Soon a row of flags designated the keyline.
We went down the hill about 30 feet and did it again. Eventually four rows of orange flagging sprinkled the hillside. I couldn’t wait to get on the tractor.
There are special keyline plows. They have a small football shaped shoe and a very narrow shank. They make a mole like tunnel. I don’t have one.
I decided to modify a chisel plow by taking off every other shank. Now I had four shanks at two feet centers. I chained the cultipacker behind it to compress the ridges down a bit.
Not wanting to go too deep, I set the draft so it plowed to a depth of about three inches. Following the flags, I soon had four parallel furrows along the keyline. Then I went back and forth using each previous pass as a guide, until I got to the next row of flags.
Where the hillside gets less slopey, I made wider swaths. The idea is to stay fairly level, maybe going down hill a tiny bit as I moved towards the center of the hill.
The next step is to hook up the manure spreader and fling some good compost over the hillside. These fields have been over grazed and under fertilized for years. I am so happy to be spending some time and energy improving them. I plan to frost seed grass and clover in late February, hoping to get a stand in the small furrows.
Farming has to make money. When my small calves brought $3.17 a pound, it was time to compost pasture land. An eight month old bull calf is worth two dozen bushels of potatoes, I know which one requires more labor.
The growth of pastures is dependent on water. Rain falling on this hillside will have more trouble getting to the Long Hungry Creek. The darker color of the soil indicates good humus formation, which will be further enhanced by this microbial activity from the compost.
In the extremely dry conditions of Australia, keyline plowing has done wonders. Farms using it have ponds full of water and much better production. In our humid climate we just need to slow its pace as it moves ever down the hill.

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A Look Back at the 2014 Food Summit

After last week’s local food summit, I have to amend an old saying. The way to a man’s and woman’s heart and mind is through the stomach. The chefs stole the show and the food was phenomenal. Although the many lecturers gave great workshops, the demonstration kitchen was always packed. People would rather be in a room with the organic food than just talking about it.

Laura pulled out all of the stops in coordinating the meals. Getting meat and produce from Middle Tennessee’s organic farms to Nashville’s finest restaurants who then catered the event. I have always stressed the importance of eating the best when we have conferences, but this was over the top and we all thank Laura.

On Friday night we climbed the hill to Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory, one of Nashville’s hidden treasures. A dome houses the telescope that has been there since 1953. It’s a beautiful place and even more so when decorated with love and full of local food enthusiasts. Great music by Beth, Will, and Bill followed the great food served in style by students of the Art Institute’s Culinary Program.

Vanderbilt’s Health Plus hosted the Saturday event with 35 vendors exhibiting at the vibrant trade show at the Recreation and Wellness Center. Besides the kitchen workshops with the renowned Tyler, Sean and Sandor, a featured track was on farming’s role in climate change. It became obvious with Mark, Hugh L. and Hugh W. that we can sequester the excess atmospheric carbon causing problems in the air back into the soil through sustainable agriculture and intensive grazing.

The backyard gardening track is always popular. With Adam and Suzanna offering their years of experience in growing food with permaculture methods. A special treat was Dr. McBugg, Richard with his wealth of knowledge about insects. I am so glad to see a revival in home gardening the organic way.

But what will really make the big shift away from agribusiness to real farming is economics. Ken and John thoroughly understand that it is only through subsidies and crop insurance that the chemically dependent system prevalent today is artificially propped up. If we leveled the playing field the small family farm can return to clean up the air water and land, put people back to work, and offer healthy food. One of Vanderbilt’s graduate programs did an economic impact study of a local farm and the students got very excited to learn about the positive impacts we can have.

Virginia and Steve gave insights into the healthcare question, with their decades of work healing people by incorporating good diets with healthy food. The Middle Tennessee Refugee Agriculture Program discussed the community gardens they have growing in Nashville. Spirituality and food was the theme presented by Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, with Jason and Chas sharing inspiring stories of why Christians are joining the good food movement.

Matt and Miranda are successful restaurant owners sourcing local foods and explaining why this is important. An awesome lunch was followed by John’s keynote address which received a standing ovation for his clear articulation of what went wrong in agriculture and how the real farms, the small family farms, can and will make it right. The farmer-chef auction was amusing as ever as Lamar collected bids for 2-hour consultations with experts.

Vanderbilt’s University Club was the scene of the evening’s fantastic dinner by Chef Nick, and was topped off by a stellar concert by Darrell, Jamie, and Kenny. On Sunday we reconvened at Sulfur Creek Farm in the Bells Bend community for in-depth discussions on farming and marketing. This was followed by more great food by the Humble Flower Girls and a tour of the gardens by Eric and Loren.

Behind the scenes a cast of characters had been working hard, meeting weekly for many months to put the summit together. From the Nashville Food Project we thank Tallu and Claudia. Mike took the lead promoting us with help from Kris, Cayla, Chesley, and Judy. Vanderbilt’s team effort included Brad, Lynn, Justin, John, Courtney, Jim, Lori, Mary and a few others who need special appreciation. Brenda and Tom not only got it off the ground, but their kindness and encouragement throughout the planning was indispensible. Keith came through at the critical moments, but we would never have accomplished this important conference without Rocky and Lynn who have become my dear friends. Last but not least, I thank the farm crew who kept the vegetables growing back home, Phil and Alex and Kristina, whose communication skills and unbridled enthusiasm combined to make this event successful and the process fun.

Over 300 attendees also deserve our gratitude. They are the movers and shakers, and with all the great food in their stomachs now they will take this inspiration home to further a more just and sane food production and distribution system. Growing our own food and supporting sustainable farming may be the best ways to make this a better world. For more information please go to tnlocalfood.com.

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A Look Back at Biodynamic Conference 2014

The Southeast annual biodynamic event went off without ahitch as once again our log cabin became transformed into a conference center. About 150 folks roam about for a few days of fun and feasting, most of themcamping in the field. Speakers came from as far away as Oregon and Costa Rica,along with a good representation from our more nearby states.

Resilience and restoration were the themes this year. Fridayafternoon saw us touring the farm to look at the gardens and the cows. Aspecial treat was opening up the beehive and getting to taste the honey.

Phillip Lyvers had the floor after the evening banquet. Hegrew up poor, on poor soil, and did not see the soil restore itself properlyuntil he began using the biodynamic method. His farm is unusual, as it is aconfinement hog operation with commercial corn and soy beans also using soundorganic principles.

Saturday was busy. The lectures ran all day, touching onhomeopathy, permaculture, composting, nutrition, soil restoration andgardening. We stuffed cow horns and made chamomile sausages, along with a batchof barrel compost.

Fiddles accompanied lunch, and children ran around having ablast. Another farm tour happened in the afternoon, making it back in time forthe dinner circle. The weather was perfect and a sense of community envelopedus.

circle biodynamic conference 2014

For more pictures from the conference, please click here.

After another great supper a lively talent show entertainedthe crowd, with a big bonfire for the background. Then the barn danced the restof the night away.

On Sunday we read and discussed the beginning of lecture IIof the Agriculture Course. As wetried to understand the difference between influences and forces, lectures weregiven in German, a much different language than English. They put wordstogether more than we do, and we really don’t have adequate phrases to explainwhat they mean.

A final farm tour rounded out Sunday, and I was ready for anearly bed time. But a consultation kept me interested and up for an extra fewhours. Monday morning arrived and soon the van was full of vegetables and Iheaded to Nashville.

It was there while at a meeting at Vanderbilt that I heard that our grant was accepted. It means a lot of work for me. I’m humbled and grateful for all the support this community has given for what we do.

After a full day of consulting on Tuesday, I came home toget the place ready for 18 third graders who stayed with us for three days.That was a huge amount of fun, noise and cooking, campfires and creek time wereenjoyed, and a bit of farm work happened, too.

The opportunities for small farmers have never been so good.Nashville wants local food. I was surprised to learn Red Boiling Springs hasanother threat of chicken houses again. A visit to Hermitage Springs will letyou know what this would smell like.

A big thank you to all of the cooks, dishwashers, vendorsand speakers who inspired the conference. And an even bigger thank you toeveryone supporting good smelling agriculture.

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Biodynamic Conference 2014 Pictures

circle biodynamic conference 2014 cow horns biodynamic conferencebiodynamic conference 2014 food and produce biodynamic conference 2014 group shot biodynamic conference 2014 hanging uot biodynamic conference 2014 pre dusk biodynamic conference 2014 pre-bonfire biodynamic conference 2014 suzannabiodynamic conference gourds pumpkinsbiodynamic conference nathan lecture

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Temporal Nature of Farming

In gardening, planting takes planning. There are so many factors to consider. Luckily I have 40 years of mistakes behind me, so here we go.

First, where were the crops over the last few years? Crop rotation keeps the ground growing a different crop each year. Most crops can come back to the same land after three years, but peas and melons would rather wait for seven years.

Next, how long will the crop be there? We grow celery, swiss chard and parsley together every year, because they stay in the ground until December. Beans, cucumbers and summer squash each last about 90 days, so they are planted together. Sweet potatoes and peppers go until frost, so they are together too.

But a sweet potato row will devour a early pepper row. We have had to take a machete into the battle between them to save the peppers from the viney mass that sweet potatoes can be in September. You wouldn’t think these spindly slips could ever sprawl eight feet away, but just wait. We plant a row of October beans between them, and they get harvested about the time the sweet potato cines reach their row.

Melons are also viney, so they also get a row of shelly beans next to them. This year its Vermont Cranberry bean, a pretty red and white variety. Okra gets tall, so it needs a row of Shelly beans between it and the tomato patch.

Six rows of tomatoes will make a jungle, so I have a plan. Two beds of lettuce divide the tomato patch in half. The lettuce will be harvested b the time the tomatoes ripen. I’ll mow the bolting lettuce and weeds to create a path through the tomato patch, making harvesting easier and more pleasant.

We also have to think about timing and quantities. If you are going to can pickles, green beans and tomatoes, and freeze sweet corn, you don’t want them all to ripen the same week. By staggering the planting dates, we can have them come in at different times.

How much of each crop you plant doesn’t determine what youll harvest, because every year is so different. We plant lots of everything, but there is only so much land plowed and ready, so decisions have to be made. Four rows of melons became six when we started picturing sweet juicy ones. More than one row of okra would mean way too much time picking it.

Over the winter, I fill up notebooks with my garden plans. I never follow them. A cover crop may need to stay in longer, or a spot may be ready sooner than another. Varmints, like deer, ground hogs and raccoons are an issue too.

Plans make plans make plans. It is endless, watching the mind. Eventually we just have to plant. Knowing we’ll get something wrong is somehow comforting. The beauty of gardening is its temporal nature, it will grow, get crowded, over-produce, and eventually be plowed back in for another year of thinking about it.

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Storage Crops

Storage crops have always been an important source of income for the farm. Living far from markets, I’d rather go less and carry more. Fresh vegetables are great, but need to be moved quickly. When I go to market, I like to be able to grab bushels from the storage areas that are already harvested and ready to go.

Potatoes are number one on the list. We planted 2,500 pounds of seed potatoes this spring. Some drowned in an area by the cave that gets flooded routinely. When they built the chicken house above my old home, they changed where the water drained, so now it all goes one way instead of two. This increase on the northside fills up the lower half of the organic garden there by the cave. It will have to be planted in grass for hay, I guess.

So I decided to try and grow fall potatoes, something I’d never tried before. Feed and seed stores gave me or sold cheaply their leftover bags of sprouting seed spuds. We composted and plowed up the old pumpkin patch, which had a rank growth of wheat and Austrian peas almost head high by June. I laid off furrows and we planted most of them whole. I thought cutting these wrinkled masses of sprout might increase their chances of rotting. It will be interesting to see what happens to a potato field planted on the first day of summer, rather than the normal planting on the first day of spring.

Sweet potatoes are another great storage crop. By placing horse manure under the bed where we started the slips, the plants were being pulled a full month earlier. So we plated ¾ of an acre all in one planting, and they look great. They are laid by, except for a bit of hand pulling of weeds we missed.

The third storage crop we’ve been selling for 30 years is butternuts. All winter squash store well, but none beats butternuts. A butternut grown in 2007 stayed on my mantle through 2008 and was still hard and edible in 2009. I’m going to plant a late crop of these in the first week of July, following a garlic crop. This requires 90 days, so I think I still have time. If not, another failure is a success in that I learn again what not go do.

Speaking of garlic, this is another traditional Long Hungry Creek Farm specialty. People know us for our garlic, again from over 30 years of selling it if stores well until late winter.

Our onions have done well the last few seasons. I’m finally learning their secrets. Fall plowing is essential, but compost is not. They can use the leftover fertility from the heavy composting of a previous potato or corn patch.

Onions go in around March 15, and need lots of hoeing. It gives us great practice to hoe onions in April, so that by May we are used to long days with long rows to hoe. Getting them out requires a dry spell in July, as wet weather at harvest can cause many to suffer from rotting.

I’m going to learn how to store beets. A second planting in early May caught up with the mid April sowing, and needed way less weeding. Whenever we can stir the ground a few times before planting, many sprouting weeds are destroyed and it makes for an easier time growing the crop.

We planted beets a third time with the late potatoes. I don’t know if they’ll survive summer, as they, like potatoes, are known a cool weather crop. But you never know until you try.

The cellar will store the potatoes and beets, and the winter turnips. Above it is the warm, dry area for the sweets and butts, and we affectionately call them. Onions and garlic will hang from the rafters.

This winter, when Nashville’s local food supply is limited, I hope to be able to offer up some goodies. Along with kale under row covers, these storage crops will make a lot of people happy next February.

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Steiner’s Agriculture Course

Steiner begins the second lecture by giving an overview of the whole agriculture course. We will spend the first lectures gathering knowledge so as to recognize the conditions on which the prosperity of agriculture depends and observing hoe agriculture lives in the totality of the Universe. In the later lectures we will draw the practical conclusions, but for now we must gather, recognize and observe. Continue reading

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The Gardens Are Still Producing

As it is mid-November, it’s not surprising that people say to me, “I guess you are done with your gardening.” My answer does surprise them. “No, the gardens are still producing like crazy and we’ll be delivering vegetables for another six weeks.” Continue reading

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