Senda Verde Permaculture Eco Center

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

2010 Spud Season Begins – New Technique!

Last Friday I got a call that my seed potatoes were in. This year I used one of the several organic farms in central WI that specialize in spuds to source my seed – I save a bundle in shipping, and they make a bit too. Its all good. But as this was an ad hoc deal, communication was not ideal and some wires were crossed. Apparently some of “Rose Finn Apple *OR* La Ratte; German Butterball *OR* Kennebec” got a lost in the shuffle and all those “or’s” got changed to “and’s”. So I have an extra 150#’s of potatoes — not a huge deal, but its an extra 20% more space. And were were already feeling the crunch on the farm as each of the tenant farms is looking to expand this year. Might need to rethink some of my cover/compost crop experiments…

Running the math – 750#’s works out to just under 6000 row feet with 12″ spacing. The Kennebecs and Yukons get more like 8″, but still, that is well over a mile of potatoes to hill, water, and harvest. Good thing I have that extra day off! With seed in hand and low tunnels up, it was time to get crackin on planting. 2010 is going to bring several changes. First, I am growing even more varieties: Desiree (storage), Carola (melt in your mouth good), Purple Viking (al purpose and gorgeous), Kennebec (baking), Nicola (favorite of my Chef client), Yukon Gold (early/potato salad), German Butterball (storage), “Flaming” (no idea, it was a substitute for Red Gold), and 3 fingerling (La Ratte, Rose Finn Apple, and French). Second I am planning the harvest more betterer since harvesting/selling 8000#’s of spuds in a part time one man gig is no mean feat. And finally, I am getting much more intentional with my growing technique which is what I would like to get into in this post.

Last year I ran 2 experimental plots. The first, the potato towers, were an unmitigated failure. The second was using deep straw mulch over fertile soils was a spudtacular success –netting over 3# per plant. If I could get the same yields in field production my harvest would be over 9 tons this year from 750#’s of seed (24:1) – or more importantly I could cut my seed order and acreage in 2011 by over half. Doing more with less sounds great to me.

2 30" beds with a 1' center path to fit under the Low Tunnels hold 4 rows of spuds

Here is the technique I have worked out and will be field trailing as much as time allows:

2 30" beds with a 1' center path to fit under the Low Tunnels hold 4 rows of spuds

You may have noticed that it is still March and I am planting potatoes – this is the bed under the first low tunnel I built this past Febuary. The rye crop LOVED the cover and was 18″ tall by March 22! – I mowed and turned it under last Friday using the rotary plow and then formed this bed. The bed design is taken straight our of 4 Season Harvest: 2 30″ beds divided by a 1′ middle path. This allows it to snuggle under a low tunnel (hoops laying to the left, plastic to the right) allowing me to plant as early as the soil can be worked – in this case 3 weeks early due to having to till under the cover crop; 2011 I will be in March wk 2.

But I am not one to rest on anyones laurels, not even Eliot Coleman’s. In Chapter 12 of Alcohol can be a Gas, David Blume talks through a really intriguing method of doing raised beds. Essentially a contour swale is dug every few beds and then this swale is filled with compost material and wood chips. In Blume’s idea, these mulch filled swales are then inoculated with red wigglers who munch away, merrily composting in place. But Blume is a Grade A permaculturist so look how cool this gets: these are contour swales – so they fill with water every good rain. That alone is great as each raised bed is now sitting on top of a lens of sub soil water greatly reducing or eliminating irrigation. But his swales are full of worm turd, which is water soluble and that lens of water is now super fertile. Plus the worms can’t live in the swale during the flood so they high tail it into your raised beds and happly munch away in there while manuring and opening up air passages with their burrows. Awesome. But the swale function stacking ain’t done yet. Blume doesn’t mention this, but being full of wood chips – they will act as nurseries for soil fungi. The paths are never tilled, just added to, so the fungi lives on. And on and on to recharge your beds with mycelium even after the disruptive potato harvest. How cool is this?

It just so happens that the rotary plow is wicked good at building raised beds with 1′ deep swales on each side. Oh, and I just bought a cool Italian chipper that eat 2″ trunks for breakfast. AND I am planting coppice trees by the hundreds. Look at the picture again, you see the start of the wood chip swale (not on contour in this plot) for my own little Chapter 12 experiment. This week I will get another 20 yards of chips in BART (it will take about 90 yards to fill all the swales!!) And this afternoon the farm owner and I staked out the contour lines of the new potato plot (65′x170′). This week we will disc it to give the horses a workout, and then build the beds with the Grillo and the rotary plow: 6′ beds each surrounded by a 2′ wide swale. On contour and full of mulch and worms. Gods I love this plan!

Mulch rather than hilling: 1 bale every 40' of 30" bed.

Mulch rather than hilling: 1 bale every 40' of 30" bed.

So the beds are made, but I want to take the learnings from my uber successful trial last year and scale them up. The trial consisted of 3 things – shallow planting of the seed potatoes for easy harvest, then covering the seed in compost and a foot of straw. the yeilds were insane and weeding and watering were almost eliminated. So here we go: enter a crap ton of compost and straw and I am planting shallower to hopefully allow me to use the root digger for the Grillo (good thing with 6000′ of row to harvest!). The photo at right shows me half way done with one of the 20 beds. The spud seed is planted about 4″ deep, the soil raked flat and then I applied a .5″ layer of 3/4 finished compost and watered well. Over this I added a 1-2″ layer of straw. This works out to 1 bale every 40′ of 30″ bed. As I expect to “hill” the potatoes again in about 4-5 weeks with another layer of mulch I expect each 6′ bed to take 8 bales total which works out to 160 bales for the entire plot. Bales are about $2 each, but seeing as I sell my potatoes for $2/lb I fully expect to earn that back in harvest and the reduction in weeding, hilling and watering should more than make up for it regardless.

Here is where I get really excited about this plan. First – there is 3 acres of prairie on the farm. We burn an acre a year, and the farm owner has always dreamed of using the biomass (3-4″ of straw) off on of the others on the farm each year. I’d rather not spend $300 on straw if I don’t have too, so we took a fork and a rake out to the blue stem prairie today for a look see and the straw came up fairly easy. Next week we will drag a harrow across one of the prairie plots with the Draft Team to collect the straw to one side and then pile it up for future use as potato mulch. Awesome.

I’ve been writing about the MASSIVE amounts of compost we will be making this year – 40 tons or so. That is flippin awesome in and of itself, but it also takes ALOT of machinery and making the fuel for that machinery is alot of work. Using the bed method above nature is doing much more of the work – Moving wheel barrow loads of mulch around ad forking it into the paths is pleasant work. Chipping the coppice wood will still need fuel, but my chipper has a 5hp engine vs. the Bobcats 45hp one. Also, this system can get very close to no till in a very big hurry. Ruth Stout would be very pleased with all my mulching and I’d like to think that Fukuoka would be pleased with my letting the worms do my composting in place. Its all coming together.

This system makes all kinds of sense so we are moving forward. It will be a CRAP TON of work in the first year as I have to build 20, 80′ long raised beds from scratch, and then fill 1700′ of swale with 90 cu yards of wood chips. But once the system is in place the work should drop off quickly as is to be expected in any permaculture design. Stoked as all hell about this.

Be the Change.


Posted on March 29, 2010 by onestraw

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Monsanto monopoly held up to some light

Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean is genetically modified to survive dousing by a weedkiller made by Monsanto called Roundup

Monsanto says competition is healthy in agriculture. Above, a Monsanto researcher in Missouri last fall.
Regulators Offer Competitors, Farmers and Activists a Platform to Gripe About Crop Biotech Giant

Crop biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. has the most at stake in the first of an unprecedented series of public meetings that the antitrust wing of the Justice Department is holding across the Farm Belt.

In January, the Justice Department launched a formal antitrust investigation of the St. Louis company's handling of the most widely planted genetically modified crop in the U.S., a herbicide-immune soybean.

Now, Justice's tight-lipped antitrust division is taking the unusual step of inviting competitors, farmers, politicians and activists to air any gripes about Monsanto - and to suggest ways to limit the company's reach before a high-profile audience.

The Obama administration disclosed Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder will speak Friday at the first of five such meetings, billed as joint "workshops" with the Department of Agriculture on competition issues.

Friday's meeting in Iowa will focus on genetically-modified seeds, the 14-year-old market largely created and led by Monsanto, which has at least one of its patented genes in about 90% of soybeans grown in the U.S. and in about 80% of U.S. corn.

Monsanto declined to make Hugh Grant, its chairman and chief executive, available for comment, but issued a statement that "an objective review of the agricultural sector will reveal that competition is alive and flourishing." A Monsanto vice president is scheduled to speak Friday.

Frankenfoods by Monsanto your caring sharing multinational...

Farmers and the seed companies that license genes from Monsanto have long complained about the prices it has been able to command. The price of a bag of soybean seed, for example, has roughly quadrupled since Monsanto began licensing genes.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, the seed unit of Wilmington, Del., chemicals concern DuPont Co., has alleged that Monsanto is trying to use gene licenses to limit competition. Monsanto has also tried in recent months to dispel fears among some farmers and seed breeders that Monsanto will make it hard for them to use generic versions of genetically modified crops after the company's patents expire.

Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean is genetically modified to survive dousing by a weedkiller made by Monsanto called Roundup. Introduced in 1996, the seed made it so easy for farmers to chemically weed their fields that many stopped using other herbicides or mechanically tilling their fields. With that seed losing its ability to draw royalties after 2014, Monsanto is trying to get farmers to switch to a second generation of Roundup Ready seed that it has patented.

Rising US farm acreage using Monsanto

Mr. Holder will be joined Friday by Christine Varney, his antitrust chief, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and several states' attorneys general, some of whom have been investigating Monsanto's business practices for years.

"Seed technology is pretty heavily consolidated," said Mr. Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, a state where Monsanto and Des Moines-based seed giant Pioneer Hi-Bred are locked in a bitter fight for farmer loyalty that includes dueling lawsuits in a federal courthouse. "I'm not taking sides," Mr. Vilsack said Wednesday. "What I'm really concerned about is farmers getting a fair shake."

The USDA estimates that U.S. farmers spent $17.2 billion on seed in 2009, up 56% from $11 billion in 2006.

President Obama promised early in his administration to "reinvigorate" antitrust enforcement, which involved the Justice Department disavowing Bush era guidelines. His antitrust chief has largely pushed on her own for a closer look at agriculture, where everything from hogs and cattle to corn, soybeans, milk and seeds are processed by a handful of big corporations.

Ms. Varney said she came up with the idea for the workshops a year ago during her nomination hearings, when Sen. Russ Feingold (D. Wis.) and other farm-state legislators complained the Bush administration permitted a merger wave among agricultural processors that undermined farmers. More than 15,000 people have submitted comments to the Justice Department on the workshops.

GMO a risky business buy organic find a CSA

Ms. Varney, who said she worked for a time during her youth organizing farm workers, said she feels a personal connection to farmers, who by nature of their business are usually dwarfed by the companies they buy from and supply. "I don't have any preconceived notions," she said, adding that the Friday workshop is arranged in a way that will allow her "to get a variety of views" on Monsanto, among other things.

Still, several of Friday's slated speakers have been critical of Monsanto, and the meeting is an opportunity for them to present to senior government officials what they see as remedies for curtailing its influence. While it is far from clear that the Obama administration will adopt any of these ideas, which mostly touch on how Monsanto licenses its genes, it's probably the best chance that many speakers will ever get to present their arguments. "This is a rare opportunity," said Diana Moss, vice president of the American Antitrust Institute, a Washington think tank.

Your only power is your purchasing power dont buy this crap

Neil E. Harl, a retired Iowa State University economics professor, says the meetings are "a very different tactic for the (antitrust division) to go public like this," he said. "Maybe they think just talking about these things might have an impact on the boardroom."

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, for example, filed a comment for the workshop that calls on the federal government to stop biotechnology companies from using gene licenses to block independent seed companies from stacking genes from various companies in a plant.

By Scott Kilman
Wall Street Journal
© Reuters

Thanks to SOTT for the post

Friday, 12 March 2010

Bartering is back

Valerie Gates is not exactly the person you'd expect to go public with the declaration: Will work for food. But that is just what the Wellesley creative-marketing designer and mother of two did last month.

When her business began to lag in the fall, Gates, a 43-year-old who entered the marketing world nearly 15 years ago after working in the Los Angeles entertainment industry, devised a creative way to reach new clients, feed her family, and help the community all at the same time.

The concept was simple: She would offer the creative services of her firm, Gates Studios, to five local farmers in exchange for food or shares in Community Supported Agriculture programs. Gates sent out about 60 e-mails notifying area farms and farming organizations and waited to see if her idea would catch on.

Will Work for Food gives farmers access to branding and marketing skills to grow and sustain their way of life and, at the same time, teaches her family about where good food comes from while putting healthier food on the table each day.

A family affair

The entire family is in on the project. From Dad and business partner, Barry, who is learning to cook all the great food stuffs, to Gates and their children -eight-year-old Olivia, a vegetarian, and 13-year-old, Cameron - the family is on a journey to discover the wonder of where food comes from and the people who grow it the slow and natural way.

"It's fun for me," said Gates, whose energy and enthusiasm is contagious. "I'm pretty much a city girl. I appreciate my food more. I appreciate where my food is coming from more now."

The family went on one of their first farm visits today, an event televised by the local news. The big news? Olivia held a newborn lamb, the family learned farmers don't name their animals (for obvious reasons), and they got to see an ingenious mobile hen house. Better news yet? The family is gaining a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the natural world, the pressing need to be sensitive to the earth, and the vital role of food in daily life.

And the farmers are equally thrilled. Sixteen have lined up to work with Gates Studio. Gates and her family are at the precipice of a trend.

Now, someone get Barry a copy of Ruth Reichl's classic Gourmet Cookbook and Deborah Madison's fabulous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Bull frog Acres new logo


We are currently working with our first group of farm partners on our design for food barter tier but are also available to offer our complete marketing and design services to other local and national small farms and growers on our next three tiers of the project as follows on a first come, first served basis: 1) Second five growers and farms 75% off our fees. 2) Third five growers and farms 50% off our fees. 3) Fourth five farms and growers 25% off our fees. If interested, please contact us at

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Sunday, 7 March 2010

David Holmgren the co-originator of Permaculture with Bill Mollison in a two part interview

David Holmgren, the co-originator of Permaculture
David Holmgren, the co-originator of Permaculture. Holmgren is co-author of Permaculture One, the book that introduced Permaculture to the world. In part one of this interview, Holmgren speaks about the beginnings of Permaculture, his home Melliodora; one of the best documented and well known Permaculture demonstration sites, and his book Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change. Interview by Jill Cloutier of Sustainable World, and Wes Roe of the Santa Barbara Permaculture Network.

Click here to listen or download this interview Part 1

Click here to listen or download this interview Part 2

Part 2 of a 2 part interview with David Holmgren, the co-originator of Permaculture. In part two of this interview, Holmgren talks about his book Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change, and shares with us his ideas of what living in an energy descent world might be like, and why "the party may not be over".

Interview by Jill Cloutier of Sustainable World, and Wes Roe of the Santa Barbara Permaculture Network.

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