Farm Photos

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Antibiotic Organics

This article is from The Center for Food Safety; a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable agriculture. They also seem to keep an eye on the EPA and the FDA, which I personally appreciate and think we need more people doing.

Get Antibiotics out of Organic Apple and Pear Production!

A little-known use of antibiotics has quietly been allowed in organic apple and pear orchards. Most organic consumers believe that antibiotics are prohibited in organic food production systems, which is mostly true, since all other uses were outlawed when “organic” became a federally regulated program in 2002.  Yet, the use of the antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin, commonly used to treat human and animal infections, in apple and pear growing have been the exception.  Organic apple and pear growers spray them in their orchards to prevent the spread of a costly disease called fire blight, which stifles new growth and can kill trees.

Tell the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that the spraying of antibiotics on apple and pear trees goes against the principles of organic, and it’s high time this loophole was closed.

Unfortunately, tetracycline and streptomycin have become the treatment of choice for controlling fire blight and, subsequently, resistance to streptomycin has already become a problem in many apple and pear orchards.  When antibiotics are used to kill targeted bacteria, some bacteria are resistant and contribute to the pool of resistant genes in the environment.  This situation increases the likelihood that human pathogens will eventually acquire that resistance. Given the problems associated with antibiotic resistance, and the potential for reduced effectiveness of these important drugs for curing human infections, the obvious question is why all uses of antibiotics haven’t been prohibited in organic?

The short answer is that many organic pear and apple growers feel they have limited options since research has been slow to identify alternatives to stop the spread of fire blight. Yet, other growers have found that antibiotics are not needed by keeping a close watch on their orchards and by using the full range of cultural practices and organic inputs available to prevent the spread of the disease.

In 2011, the NOSB informed organic apple and pear growers that both tetracycline and streptomycin would be prohibited after the current extension for its use expired on October 21, 2014. Concerned about their inability to meet the deadline, some growers have petitioned the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to extend the expiration date, again, until 2016.

Tell the NOSB that enough is enough -- without time pressure to end the use of tetracycline and streptomycin, alternative controls likely will not be implemented as soon as they could be.  Given the growing public and medical community concern about antibiotic resistance and its effects on health, we cannot risk having these important antibiotics lose their effectiveness for killing human pathogens. Moreover, the entire organic label and organic program is at risk of losing credibility because organic consumers do not expect antibiotics to be used in any of the organic products they buy, and certainly not in apples and pears.

Sign the petition urging the NOSB to phase-out antibiotics in organic apples and pears! Take action by March 19th to get your comment on the record!

Center for Food Safety

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Salal Propagation

I always find myself walking through the woods wondering "what is that berry? what is that plant?" Well, the first time I remembered my northwest plant identification guide on one of my walks, I discovered something fascinating.

There is a shiny green-leafed ground cover bush that grows seemingly everywhere in western Washington, and you probably pass by it on the daily unaware of it's edible properties. Salal, as the coastal Chinook called it, or Gaultheria shallon, is a beautiful native bush which produces blueberry-like berries in late summer.

Salal is often found looking like the above picture, bunched around the trunks of conifers, it's favorite companion species. It is identifiable by it's shiny oval leaves that slightly purple in winter; its red-ish stems and rhizomes; and its lantern-like hanging pink flowers.

 According to King County's Native Plant Guide:
"The single best ground cover for northwest gardens, salal is a do it all plant. Long recognised as one of the best foliage plants for flower arranging, it is also one of the most adaptable in the native repertoir"

Salal distribution.

But this plant goes beyond just being decorative. The Oregon Encyclopedia says:
"Native Americans made great use of salal as a medicine (dermatological aid, gastrointestinal aid, and cough medicine), food (berries, dried or cooked), dye (purple from fruits, yellow from leaf infusion), and untensil (stems used as cooking tools)."
So, florists use the foliage as decorations in arrangements. Landscapers use the bush as a hedgerow and ground-cover. Gardeners use salal to attract bees and other beneficial insects. Everyone can eat the berries or make preserves, pie, or wine. On top of that this is a native species, cultivated by the Native Americans, so it's well adapted and probably resistant to common ailments in this climate. I'm sold, and I want a patch of it to start.

The University of Washington says that salal is best propagated through rhizome cuttings or seeds. Getting the seed would involved waiting until it fruits, collecting berries, mashing them and spreading the mixture to dry, picking out seeds and starting them. I can do this and probably will, but taking cuttings is a lot faster. Rhizome cutting is a form of vegetative propagation that was common among Native Americans and is actually really simple. However, you should never attempt to harvest wild plants unless you have permission. This is just to protect them in case they are rare, as the process could kill the parent plant.

A row of new plants growing from an underground rhizome.
Find new growth sticking up out of the ground, usually within proximity to a larger plant. Rhizomes are underground stems that grow out in all directions from the parent plant and pop up new plants as they go.

Dig down around the new growth until you find the actual rhizome stem. You can dig with your hands or a shovel. You are looking for an underground stem with small hair roots coming out of it.

These cuttings are ready for planting.

Once you have your cuttings with rhizomes intact; they can go straight into the ground. If you were trying to take it into a more foreign environment, an organic rooting tea may help. If you're transplanting it on the west coast, it's going to take no problem. Salal likes cool, moist soil and shade. It likes to grow near ferns and conifers but will do well on it's own as a backyard  hedge.

New salal cuttings growing with some garden fungi.

Salal used as a driveway hedge.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sepp Holzer, Ponds and Aquaculture

I just finished digging our first small pond on the farm. It will be for water storage and serve as a duck habitat. We will connect this pond, which is at a high elevation on the property, to a lower pond where we will raise fish. The water will flow from the upper pond to the lower through a large swale. A swale is a Permaculture structure that is essentially a ditch filled with mulch and organic matter. It is dug on contour to the land, meaning level, so the water moves slowly and can seep out into the surrounding ground. In doing this, a gardener can capture rain water and runoff and hold it in their own landscape; instead of pumping groundwater from a well. In the land surrounding the ponds and swale, we will plant a mixture of perennial trees, bushes, climbers and roots to eventually become our food forest.
A Permaculture swale filled with water.

I am inspired to do this by one farmer in particular. He raises fish, generates electricity, waters his gardens, and creates microclimates all with his multiple man-made ponds. Sepp Holzer is an Austrian farmer who inherited his alpine land from his family and turned his childhood playground into a lifestyle.

Holzer's 70 plus ponds are arranged on a sloped mountainside. The water flows down through the ponds using gravity, between each pond Holzer uses water wheels and antique generators to capture electricity from the flowing water. Holzers farm produces immense diversity in species of fish, wildlife, poultry, vegetables, fruits and grains. Growing wheat, peaches, figs and kiwis is extraordinary when done in the high elevations of the Austrian Alps. Krameterhof, Sepp Holzers farm, is managed only by himself and his wife and has become a haven for sustainable farmers looking to learn a few tips.

In addition to cultivation, Holzer has devoted portions of his 45 hectares to wetlands, re-naturalization, agroforestry, mushrooms, and wildlife culture.

"Sepp works with nature and also creates habitats where his heritage breed farm animals thrive as well. He uses pigs as tractors to clear land for crops, farms cattle and keeps many breeds of chickens and ducks and makes sure his animals are kept in as natural a way as possible. Seeing this place is believing.
Take a tour with Josef, Sepp's son, and see for yourself what applied permaculture design can do in a farmed landscape. Human beings can live in harmony with the land, creating wildlife habitats and producing an incredible variety of foods. Sepp and his family have proved it." - Permaculture Magazine - "Visit Sepp Holzers Farm"

This is Hugelkultur, a method that Sepp Holzer teaches and employs to grow mixed vegetables in raised, biomass-packed beds. Usually logs or fallen trees are piled in the bottom, then topped with layers of mulch, compost and soil. This provides the growing plants with a huge nutrient source and the wood is a natural sponge for water retention. Also, by turning green sod upside-down and using it as mulch, the composting generates heat and keeps the beds warm.

Sepp, standing in front of two hugelkultur beds of mixed herbs and vegetables. He is famous for his seed mixtures which include a stable variety of vegetables, herbs and nitrogen fixers.

"I have lived on the Krameterhof for more than 30 years, and I have learnt that you can overcome the most difficult situations if only you care about nature and are thankful for what it offers to you. Mother Earth belongs to the Creator and her bounty is what we can experience." Veronika Holzer

Livestock on the farm.

To learn more about Sepp Holzer and Krameterhof; and to see when workshops or lectures may be available or coming to your area check out Holzers website:

He also has three separate DVD's available for purchase. One deals with raised beds and alpine farming; another with strictly aquaculture and a third video talking about farming with nature. They can be purchased through Green Planet Films: 

You can find the videos out there without purchase, sometimes they are in sections. Here is a 30 minute section of the aquaculture film: Aquaculture and Synergy of Land and Water

"Farming with Nature" Preview:

Also, if you can't get enough of Krameterhof like me, then there's a book titled Sepp Holzers' Permaculture available through virtually every major book outlet.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Greenhouse Accomplished

Greenhouses allow farmers and gardeners to expand their growing season. Before it's warm enough to start seeds outdoors, a greenhouse is essential to getting a jump on starting plants. This is why building one was one of my top priorities upon arriving at the farm. They can be pretty basic, or as complex and decorative as you desire. We were looking to get seeds growing, so a simple poly-tunnel sufficed. However, when researching greenhouses I found so much inspiration and am looking forward to creating more in the future all over the property.

First, have a look at our own process.
We chose a spot which got maximum sunlight, and was located close to both house and garden for convenience.

We hammered in 1 foot pieces of re-bar, and fitted the PVC over them.

It is 14 by 22 feet. We used 20 pieces of 10 foot PVC piping, connected in the middle. This was just so we could transport them in the truck.

The ends are framed with 2x4's and plywood. Like the chicken coop, we cut holes for windows.

Greenhouse plastic came in 10 foot wide roll. We put up 3 pieces, they overlap about 2 feet.

The door was a 2x4 frame with plastic stapled to it. We did the same thing with the back windows.

Completed with plastic, removable windows, and door.

Our greenhouse was fast and simple to do, but the painted ends and colored windows add a whimsical touch. Inside there are shelves located on both end walls, very convenient. It is oriented toward the southern sun and is already extremely warm; the removable windows are necessary to allow airflow or it would be too hot!

Now, check out some inspiring greenhouses that I found while searching around. I hope to build many of these designs on the farm as well, like little warm pockets to keep plants in.

A geodesic dome greenhouse made with wooden frame and greenhouse plastic.

Inside the Zome.

The Amazing Algarden Zome greenhouse designed and built by a couple in Texas.

Greenhouse made from recycled doors and windows.
Tiny recycled window house.

A hoop poly-tunny like ours but just for a garden bed.

Greenhouse made from recycled, stacked plastic bottles.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Monsanto V. Bowman

A battle was lost last month in the Supreme Court when seed giant company, Monsanto, won their case against a small Indiana farmer accused of stealing seed grain. 
"Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that there were lots of things Mr. Bowman could do with the seeds he had bought from the grain elevator.
“You can feed it to animals, you can feed it to your family, make tofu turkeys,” he said.
“But I’ll give you two that you can’t do,” he went on. “One, you can’t pick up those seeds that you’ve just bought and throw them in a child’s face. You can’t do that because there’s a law that says you can’t do it. Now, there’s another law that says you cannot make copies of a patented invention.”
Monsanto v. Bowman has recently won the attention of farmers and activists all over the nation. 

Vernon Hugh Bowman is a 75 year old soybean farmer from Indiana. He grows conventional, Monsanto brand Roundup Ready soy, and has in the past paid their fees to use the seed. This year, Bowman purchased feed grain (grain used to feed animals) and planted it, figuring it was a loophole around the company's fees. He was hoping to grow Roundup Ready soy, he knew the feed grain might contain the GM seed. There are so many issues going on here it's hard to sort them out. First of all and most importantly, Mr. Bowman is trapped in a cycle of monoculture and GMO; like lots of other farmers. The fact that he felt there was no other way than to somehow acquire Monsanto seed is shameful to the sustainable agriculture movement. This points to a need for organizations who help American farmers become independent of large corporations, pesticides and fertilizers.

Vernon Bowman's actions were not surprising, not creative, not conniving. He did exactly what farmers have done for centuries; he followed an ancient farming ritual. Farmers in the past would have saved seed from the previous year, but if that molded or was eaten, then feed grain was always an appropriate replacement. Farmers would even have plucked out seedlings that weren't as desirable and allowed the strong ones to survive. It is a disappointment that Roundup Ready were, in this case, considered the "strong" or "elite" seeds. Regardless, the real question here is: does Monsanto have the right to patent something naturally occurring which they've manipulated, then pray on small farmers who don't pay them a royalty? What is that going to look like after Monsanto's GM seeds are everywhere? There will be no other seed. Seeds, like water, are god given. Farmers have freely grown, saved and traded them as a part of their businesses, homes, communities, schools, churches...culture.

However, the most emotional reaction I had came from how the judges, and Monsanto's lawyers, treated Bowman. "A lawyer for Monsanto, Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general, was allowed to talk uninterrupted for long stretches..." - NY Times, Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean. Also, the quote from Justice Breyer above is exceedingly hostile in my opinion. To use an analogy that involves hurting a child for absolutely no reason other than to draw some kind of emotional response is sickening.

This case, as Debbie Barker from the Center for Food Safety points out in the interview below, is a microcosm of a macrocosmic problem. The problem is that corporations are claiming rights to culture. They are mutilating, enslaving and exploiting Nature...which once was part of us and we a part of it. Now the few are taxing the many for access to little bits of their "vast wealth."

NY Times; Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean; Adam Liptak; Feb. 2013

Democracy Now: