Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Organic Farmers Conference

We had a fun time at the conference. I got to touch base with a bunch of old friends and chat up a few new ones.

Thanks to: Rachel for the work and the muffin; Robyn for the encouragement; Karen for you high energy, vision, and determination; Brett for your trust and hard work; Tamara (I signed us up yesterday); Stephanie, it was great to finally meet you, come over for a swim when it gets warm; Dave for the joke; Seeds of Change (seriously, only two packets?); and Brad, every time I hear you I get enthused.

It was great to hear about your endeavors, Eric. Good luck.

How great are Corva and Frances? Nice to you again.

Hello to: Isaura, April, Jim, Brandy, Tomas, Don, Nissa, Cindy, Gordon, Illana, the Water Lady, Arizona Community Gardens, Monica, and Alceides. It was nice to meet you all, again or for the first time.

Sorry I missed you, Monte--we'll talk soon.

Thanks to the wait staff for heating up my lunch. I didn't get a lunch ticket but the homemade burrito made up for it.

It was nice to see you all. There was over 500 people in attendance, I wish I could have talked to you all. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cold Frame Update--February

Here are a couple of pictures of the cold frame. I've been eating greens for a month now.

Not much work involved. I water once a week if it so needed.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Erosion of Our Most Precious Natural Resource

As the spring planting season approaches, many of us will be turning our attention to the vegetable plot out back. Whether you were successful last year or had problems, maybe you’re an old hand at it, or sick of leathery lettuce from the big box markets and have decided to grow your own; I encourage you to first consider your soil.

New Mexico has plenty of dirt, but not as much soil. In fact, NM has the largest rate of soil loss in the nation (USDA The biggest factor in soil degradation is the loss of native vegetation and soil disturbance. Soil erosion puts sediment into our waterways, pollutes our air, adds to our soil reclamation costs, depletes native vegetation, and destroys infrastructure. Furthermore, soil can carry with it chemical pollutants. On a large scale, this is devastating to our rivers, and costs taxpayers, the home construction industry, local, state, and federal governments millions of dollars each year.

In your own landscape, erosion will decrease the value of your property, increase water usage, and decrease plant productivity and longevity. Soil is essential to the health of our planet, our farms, our plants, and our health. Most of everything we use on a daily basis comes from fertile soil: food, clothes, medicine, and home building materials.

What’s the difference between soil and dirt? Look under your finger nails. If there is a brown line under your nails, that’s dirt. If the brown line under your nails has something growing out of it, that’s soil. If you are one of those with something growing out from your nails, consider yourself lucky. In a natural healthy environment, soil consists of inorganic particles (defined by particle size as sand, silt, clay), and organic matter. The organic matter comes from decomposing plant and animal debris (both macro and micro). Organic matter shades the topsoil and protects it from the erosive properties of the wind and rain. It also provides a habitat for the micro-organisms that improve the moisture retention and nutrient availability of the soil. While most NM soils have an adequate percentage of inorganic particles, they generally lack sufficient organic content. (For a good look at soil components’ total volume percentage, see Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison, pg 200.)

This insufficiency in organic content often leads to over-use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The use of synthetic fertilizers is intended to artificially stimulate a plant, similar to steroid use in humans. The more holistic way to treat deficiencies is to treat the cause, not the symptom. The reason a plant performs poorly can in most cases be traced back to the soil in which it grows. A healthy soil makes healthy plants. Studies have recently shown that fruit grown with synthetic fertilizers have less nutrition than fruit from plants grown in healthy soil. Fortunately, we see throughout the growing regions of NM many farmers succeeding by carefully minding the health of their soil.

While you may not be farming an acre of heirlooms for sale at the markets, each of us can do more on a local level, to heal the life blood of the planet. That barren hard pack may not be as useless as you imagine. The single most important thing an individual can do to remediate soil and prevent erosion is to mulch. Properly installed organic mulch does so much: reduces evaporation, cools the soil, filter storm run-off, controls weeds, and establishes the microbial environment necessary to provide the slow release of nutrients. Organic mulch protects the bare soil from the erosive properties of wind and rain by providing an environment where plant roots can form a binding matrix.

Another easy and effective way to quickly remediate soil is to add compost. Where mulching is a slow method of tending to you soil, adding compost is an immediate boost in beneficial microbe population and replenishes valuable nutrients absorbed by plants throughout the previous growing season. Making compost also diverts methane producing organic matter from the landfills. It is easy to make at home and benefits all kinds of soil types.

Now that less than 5% of the US population live in rural settings anymore, we don’t think of the role of soil in our lives except when the kids track it in. When farming was a way of life, taking care of the soil was an obvious and important element of that way of life. We have lost a connection to the soil. “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves”. (Mohandas K. Gandhi) As a country, we need to regard the soil as a living organism, and to nurture its health. Time is running out. Although the human species is not yet endangered, out fate is inextricably intertwined with that of all other species.