Saturday, July 27, 2013

Organic agriculture, is a huge step.

Buying organic isn't just about, consuming produce clean of toxic residue, and often higher nutritional content.  it's also not just about reducing environmental runoff and toxic residue, as well as water conservation. 

No it's much more than that.  We live in such a beautiful world, that has been perfectly designed over billions of years to support a vast array of organisms.  The design is full of delicate detail and beautiful interactions between plants, animals, soil, and atmosphere to create a wonderful, mutually beneficial co- existence between all of the organisms and elements.  

Although, in the grand picture, of course nothing is entirely lost, and the earth is an accompilation of vast elements ever changing and ever renewing. So some sort of evolution will go on completely despite human activity.  

However, the amount of time that it has taken to arrive at the level of diversity on eath today, is a decent amount!  In a few short generations, human kind has eradicated much of life on earth, and with the current trends, will only continue to demise the quality of life until we all perish in these human/ animal forms.  

So of course it is what it is.  Life is beautiful regardless of the outcome.  However, if its possible to do something, to enhance our quality of living while we are still here.  Why not try?  

Conventional agriculture is dependent on fossil energy, machines that till the soil, machines that extract nutrients for farms from mines, machines that transport nutrients, companies that develop gmo seeds to tolerate changing weather conditions and toxic soils, laboratories creating toxic man made chemicals - incapable of biodegrading as far as we understand, poisons for 'weeds', 'pests' and essentially human beings whether we admit it or not.  

The soil is composed of various nutrients, in an undisturbed forest environment, all nutrients are recycled. There are no nutrient deficiencies in the soil or plants or the people who live off of these natural forests.  

In a plowed tilled, fertilized soil. Nutrients leach out through irrigation, are taken away via crop residues, are burned into the atmosphere, are bound up by the chemical additives we add to the soil.  Our conventional farming system is deficient of nutrients.  Not only that, the west, primarily Europe and USA use of soil nutrient additives-- Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium-- have experienced an unhealthy buildup of these nutrients in the soils and the water. Leading to many environmental issues.  As the west sees destruction, so do places where we have harvested all of these excess nutrients, for example, in Africa. As many of the nutrient fertilizers are harvested from Africa, the net negative nutrient balance for Africa only gets worse.  Soils appear to be a contributing factor in their impoverishment.  We have stripped their land of nutrients, starving and depriving those who live there in essence.  

Eating local organic foods...  Better yet, homegrown or wild food which has no outside additives to the soil, is a human rights issue.  

As well as animal rights, pro wildlife, life on earth.  Etc.  organic may not be perfect, but its leagues closer to a more sustainable world than our conventional system is.  

This is only a very very small super summarized statement of reasons to not support conventional agriculture, inspired by, Nyle Brady and Ray Weil -- in their textbook, 'the nature and properties of soil.' Please research, don't blindly follow the newspapers vague articles that organic is not superior then Conventional.  It holds no substance.  Sustainable solutions will hopefully be our future.  Time and our awareness will tell.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

And the harvest begins

I love my garden.  I have a style of gardening, which I haven't quite seen before!  I'm always doing new things, everything is completely, relatively chaotic and disorganized.  But somehow my little plants are budding, blossoming and harvest season has began!

2 years ago, I created a little plot of a vegetable garden on my downward sloped backyard.  I first aerated it with a pitchfork and then I covered it with flattened opened cardboard boxes and layered old hay atop that.  What I found was, I hardly if ever needed to water, 1x a week at most, yet the soil never really would dry out.  And I had planted all of these broccoli plants and kale plants which were all but mostly consumed by the little critters.

My parents had their own veggie plot where they planted corn, potatoes and all the many other plants.
The garden hadn't hardly produced last year and my mother was worried about it's general fertility.  I ended up mulching the rows of the garden this year with newspaper and hay, and the bottom portion I did lay out newspaper over the whole thing and piled on the hay. Needless to say, it's blooming galore this year!

As for my upper garden this year, I decided to do no mulch and see how it would do, since 2 years ago, the mulch didn't seem to protect the veggies much from attack.  

This year, the weeds have gone wild! I have probably the most laid back attitude about weeds for a person who loves gardens that you may ever meet.  I just love plants and weeds are included.  I eat the plants I plant along with whatever plants that decide to come up as well.  I let the weeds grow and hence they help shade out the heavy sun for those little seedlings.  I think it makes my garden characterized and jungle style!

However, as much as I love all plants, some of the weeds do seem to be taking over and threatening some of the veggies.  I half think, that perhaps if I just let the garden do it's thing.. only the strongest varieties of seeds will thrive, therefore giving me an awesome seed source-- if I get around to collecting seeds this year ... or if I don't get around to it.. the seeds that survive the jungle life, will hopefully reseed themselves.. leaving me with much less work to do next year.

It's all theory at this point. But I like the idea of having a garden that takes care of itself. But as much as I dislike pulling plants, I may need to get out there this weekend and make sure that things aren't totally going too crazy.  We will see.

I had a realization today.  I had a few.

Going back to school for me, has been a bit of a process and many times I have wondered if it is best for me.

The university that I have been working at-- for their soils department, testing soils-- is going to be holding a permaculture workshop in September!  Advisor/employer/main professor was telling me about it, and I couldn't believe it, I'll be in Portugal at Tamera at that time, which I'll be sure to document that experience -- I'm taking an ecology training course there.

But it was interesting to hear my main professor talk about what she knew about permaculture.  She mentioned about how those who she knew who were doing it, were mostly into piling mulch material heavily over their beds.  While, I can agree to this to some extent, I feel the places that I have worked at and experienced, never really mulched more than what they felt was necessary for weed suppression, and adding nutrients.  But it is definitely a central theme to permaculture, to feed the soil!  So I could definitely follow her.  She told me about some studies they have done, comparing plots that have been heavily mulched and conventional ones.  Turns out that the conventional plots actually leached LESS nutrients.  From what I could understand from her, it had something to do with that the mulch material will increase the holding capacity of moisture and nutrients for the soil, but once it reaches it capacity, its like when you try to absorb too much water with a towel, and when you try to pick up the towel, the water just pours out.  Except imagine a towel, itself that began to dissolve due to all of the water, so suddenly not only the water is pouring out but bits and pieces of the towel!

That could be a terrible analogy.  But that is what I understood of it.  Essentially, of course it's important to feed the soil, but it shouldn't be fed more than what nutrients it can actually use or produce with.  The more veggies taken from a garden, the more the garden may need some extra input.  But over time, a garden bed, will reach it's 'sopping' limit of inputs.  The best way to ameliorate this issue is to actually rotate your garden beds.  If not for the sake of your veggies, at least for the sake of the local communities.  Leached nutrients may not make a big difference from one garden plot, but from a whole city of them... it can turn into an issue.

Another way to avoid this issue, is to reduce or avoid your inputs, and plant legumes instead!  Plant them in the garden rows-- clover, plant them on the borders-- alfalfa-- plant them between your plants-- peas! Let them go wild.

Cover crops are actually the best most natural source of nitrogen in your garden.  And they are able to recycle the nutrients deep in your soil as well.  Mow them down like grass, to get more benefits to your garden.

The fact that small garden plots could actually leach more nutrients than small chemically fertilized plots, absolutely amazed me. Of course, I would never use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides etc etc on any garden or advise it to anyone for any kind of use, but I do find it fascinating that within the permaculture community, there is definitely this missing link to understanding the full picture of soil health.  Don't get me wrong, I love permaculture and there are some amazing things going on in the world in regards to it.  But it made me realize, today, why I decided to go back to school.

I love learning new things every day.  I love the idea that I might be able to learn simple rules of the soil, that could help in any situation-- farming, restoring wilderness, remediation.. etc...

I also have this crazy theory that the more I can learn about soil nutrition and how it works, the more I will understand how nutrition works in people, animals and plants too.  Many of our modern medicines actually came from soil scientists!  Penicillin was actually first discovered in the soil!

Anyway, those are the thoughts for the day.

And one more thing, which is totally unrelated to today's post but
I recently got an email inquiring about my grandmother.  I remember that I mentioned a bit about her recovery in an April post.  She has had Thyroid cancer for the past 15 years.. it comes and goes it seems in waves and many times we thought it would be the last time we'd see her.  She is one strong lady.  And this winter, we were certain, that this, this time would be it.

I noticed that her diet wasn't the best for someone who was so sick. I offered to help her.  No one expected the results that came, I mean it was basically a full turn around.  It's been about 7 months now on her new diet, and the lump has receded so much in her throat that the doctor now is able to take it out!  She will go in at the end of this month to do so.