Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


Closing the Nutrient Loop with a Chipper/Shredder

chipper shredder forest 

Chipper/shredder in the forest. Photo by Steve Maxwell

The one thing that all yards and gardens have in common is plant growth. Grass, trees, shrubs and vines – they all produce a constant stream of new organic matter. This is obvious, of course, but what you do with that organic matter after it appears can make a big difference to your gardening success and environmental footprint. Let me give you an example from my own place.

As with many rural homes, we rely on a septic system, and like most septic systems the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence, so to speak. The reason is simple . . . massive additions of nutrients and plenty of water, delivered constantly and right at the root zone make for lavish grass growth all over our septic leaching bed. In this sense every septic system is a potential nutrient factory. You just need to move those nutrients to a place on your property where they can do some good. In our case this means raking up the abundant grass growth after mowing the septic leaching bed, composting those clippings, then applying the compost where vegetables and flowers can be enhanced by the additional nutrients and organic matter. Same goes for the trees in our front yard. This area started off as an open, unshaded hay field 35 years ago. Now it’s a shaded grove of maples, oaks, pines and locusts that I planted as seedlings. Taken together these full-size trees produce massive amounts of leaves and needles each year that we collect and use as mulch and soil amendments. It’s all about making use of the very localize nutrients available from your yard and nearby land, but there’s one thing that makes it all much more effective – chipping and shredding. 

To be most effective, any kind of plant matter needs to be chipped or shredded before composting before laying it on the soil as surface mulch. This is where a portable chipper/shredder makes all the difference. 

Chipping tree branches makes them usable as mulch, and shredding loose material such as leaves and grass clippings makes them sit flat on the garden and resist blowing away. The surface mulching we do all the time is the single reason my wife and I are able to maintain as much garden area as we do, without spending a whole lot of time weeding. In fact, we almost never have even a single weed come up in our heavily-mulched perennial gardens because we constantly maintain at least 3 inches of chipped and shredded mulch over all the soil all the time. Perennial flowers break through this mulch unaided each spring, and annuals get planted in the soil after we burrow down through the mulch to the dirt. But like I said, mulching materials need to be processed first for best results, and that’s where chipper/shredders make all the difference. 

chipper shredder overall

 Chipping small branches. Photo by Steve Maxwell

Chipper/shredders get the “chipping” part of their name from the way they produce small wood chips from branches and wood waste. “Shredding”, by contrast, is what these machines do to softer organic matter fed into them, including grass clippings, leaves and trimmings from shrubs. Shredded materials are denser, they lay down better on the garden, and they store more compactly than unshredded loose materials until you’re ready to apply them. 

Do you have municipal pickup of garbage at your house? If so, more and more places won’t accept yard waste, or if they do it’s only at certain times of the year and on certain dates. That’s because yard waste is bulky, hard to handle, and takes up room unnecessarily in landfills. Burying yard waste is a huge environmental waste, too. Chipper/shredders give you the flexibility to process your own yard waste as it’s produced, instead of having to stockpile unsightly waste until the municipal disposal option comes up.

The kind of chipper/shredders that makes sense for closing the loop on the nutrients and organic matter that your own yard and garden produce have a gasoline engine that spins a completely enclosed circular blade. These machines are loud enough that I always wear hearing protection when I’m using one, and it’s natural to wonder about safety. 

chipped branches

Chipped branches. Photo by Steve Maxwell.

How safe are chipper/shredders? The Champion model I use at my place is safer than you might think at first glance. Both branches and soft organic material feed in through large hoppers that keep you’re hands well away from the completely enshrouded blade. It’s easy to be safe with a design like this. In fact, I don’t see how you could possibly hurt yourself with it if you follow the simple and straight-forward safety rules outlined in every chipper/shredder operator’s manual.

Watch the video here for a tour of how chipper-shredders work and a bit about maintaining them.

There’s a reason why every form of modern agriculture uses some kind of machine to enhance and improve plant growth and soil health. Think of a chipper/shredder as a nutrient production machine and you’ll start to appreciate that there’s more to these tools than just keeping your yard neat and tidy. They’re also about closing the nutrient loop on your property instead of just letting valuable nutrients slip through your fingers.

Steve Maxwell is co-author of The Complete Root Cellar Book. Get how-to and self-reliance answers directly from Steve at www.SteveMaxwellHowTo.com.


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Landrace Gardening by Joseph Lofthouse: A Book Review

 

Corn varieties, photo by Joseph Lofthouse

My heart and soul belong to the hills—in order to escape the civilized shackles of my past, I will focus on listening even more closely to the voices in my garden. This is my new mantra—though many would say it’s merely new wording to my way of being.

Perhaps his sharing of the parable of the hill people very early in Joseph’s book foreshadowed how closely and deeply his dedication to landrace gardening was going to affect me. It’s also very likely to further shift my gardening play. I deeply thank Mr. Lofthouse for lending credence to the wisdom I already sensed and sometimes intuitively followed.

The full title of Mr. Lofthouse’s book is Landrace Gardening—Food Security through Biodiversity and Promiscuous Pollination. As defined in the book, landrace is “A locally-adapted, genetically-diverse, promiscuously-pollinating food crop. Landraces are intimately connected to the land, ecosystem, farmer, and community. Landraces offer food security through their ability to adapt to changing conditions.” In short, by gardening (or farming) extremely locally we are more able to work in tandem with nature and proactively create thriving ecosystems with highly productive plants.

While Lofthouse’s motivation comes from his short, harsh growing cycles, I found plenty of connection with his practices and outcomes. I love the playful nature he displays when wondering if breeding for a fuzzy surface to his vegetables will deter deer or insects. It’s inspiring to read about Joe’s experimentation. Among many other things, he achieved advancement in frost-tolerant beans and garden-clean tomatoes in his gardens.

If you prefer staying with tradition, naming rights, and you hold fast to cultural appropriation, this book may not be your cuppa Joe. However, if you like to dance in nature, sing in your garden, and celebrate the freedom of intimate interaction with more natural surroundings, I’d urge you to add this plane of existence to your bevy of tools. Close observation of the plants, insects, and diseases in the garden along with personalized choices can help build your own sanctuary of productivity.

I have been raising my own landrace tomatoes for years without even knowing it. Thanks to Joseph Lofthouse, I now have a word and definition for something my style does naturally. I also understand that I was merely grazing the surface while straddling the divide of where I intuitively live and where past, more conventional practices had me rooted. I look forward to implementing a more thorough pathway to landrace in the future.

At times I was downright giddy while reading Landrace Gardening. It felt as though I was meeting someone who embraced what I’ve referred to as my lazy side. Here was someone urging me to push that aspect of my gardening even further. He strongly suggests working side-by-side with nature rather than trying to manipulate and tame it in ways that fit other people and places. Nature already has a strong survival-of-the-fittest wildness built in, so why not flow with that strength rather than constantly fight it?

As we become more intimately involved with our land, we discover not only the strengths of the nature around us but also the strength in ourselves. The more closely we look at our own likes and dislikes, the more we are motivated to mirror those in the traits in the plants we choose. We can quickly find a synchronous pathway of biodiversity and food security under our own noses. Can you imagine reclaiming the wisdom of those who gardened before the written word while employing the wealth of information available to us through modern technology and information sharing? I can, and it makes my heart sing.

In the pages of this book, I excitedly discovered that Joseph has the same contract with his Colorado potato beetles as I have with my Japanese bean beetles. Though I didn’t realize I was actively creating it at the time, my dislike of killing things and using poisons led me into the contract. I leave the beetles alone as long as they sup on the Virginia creeper and leave my beans for me. Who knew insects could avoid my soapy vat of death by simply adapting their preference for a safer buffet line? Having lost the taste for beans, subsequent generations have the preference bred in and we’re living much closer to harmony.

My one and only complaint about Lofthouse’s book is the heavy repetition. This might not bother everyone, it’s simply one of my particular bugaboos. The silver lining to repeating definitions and thoughts is that it can definitely serve to teach ideas and practices to those of us who are hands-on learners. I’m certain to return to many parts of Joe’s book and I’m definitely intrigued enough to delve more deeply into others’ reflections on the subject.

Landrace Gardening is a quick read at around 130 pages, including plenty of pictures and charts. As noted in the review above, I found plenty of inspiration in its pages. Joseph Lofthouse has definitely motivated my soul. We’ll have to wait a season or two to see just how creatively motivated and productive I might become as I play with even more plants and insects in my garden.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Tried & True Remedies for Garden Weeds and Pests

sheep in  utica field 

Sheep in Utica field. Photo by: Mary Murray, Windy Meadows Farm

Now that it’s July, the heat and humidity have reached our part of the Midwest, and it’s as if a drowsy spell has been suddenly cast over the farm.  We find that the days are somehow busy, yet lazy at the same time.

Each day begins early, trying our best to take advantage of any cool remaining from the night before and before the sun is fully up. Work continues until it is simply too hot to pull another weed, till another row, or shift another load of spent hay from the goat shed. This is when the drowsy of summer seems to settle in; the comforts of life on the farm: the rumble of distant thunder, the sweet scent of just-mowed grass, or the hum of a combine harvesting winter wheat.

combine and winter wheat

Combine and winter wheat. Photo by: Mary Murray, Windy Meadows Farm

Somehow the temptation to “just rest my eyes” is too great, and I find myself inside Maizy, our little 1963 camper, “resting” and listening to the sounds of summer. While there are always chores that need doing, I decide to work on them tomorrow. I promised a young friend I’d share some gardening lessons I’ve learned along the way, and jotting them down in the quiet of a cozy retro camper seems like a good idea.  

This young lady is right out of high school and knows exactly what she wants: to live a homesteader’s life.  She’s reaching for her dream by selling home-baked bread, setting up a coop with 6 happy hens, and planting a vegetable garden. She and I have been talking gardens lately, because it seems that July is a turning point…the days are hot, the rain is less, and the weeds and pests seem to come out with strong determination. And so, while sharing my tips & tricks with her, I thought you just might find some new solutions for your own gardens as well.

These “recipes” have been handed down through the years and do a great job for me. However; there is no guarantee and you may find you need to make adjustments depending on the “critters” or conditions in your own garden. All in all, my thoughts are this: these simple remedies are usually effective and won’t harm the environment. To me, that makes them worth a try!

First; set up a Garden Farm-acy…you probably already have these items in your pantry, paired with a few fresh ingredients, you’ll use them for the “recipes” below:

Epsom salts, canola oil, baking soda, ground cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, liquid soap (not laundry detergent)

Tomato Booster – combine 2 Tablespoons Epsom salts in 1 gallon of water; stir to dissolve. Once tomato plants have begun to bloom, pour this solution on the soil surrounding the plant…it’ll encourage stronger, healthier blooms and tomatoes.

Tomato Blight Fight – 1 Tablespoon canola oil, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 gallon water; combine and shake to blend. Spray on plants early in the season to help fight fungal blight.

Critter Ridder – pour ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, and 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap in a spray bottle; gently shake to blend and spray on the undersides of leaves. This peppery spray is great for discouraging critters who want to nibble on garden plants.

Cinnamon Spray – ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon stirred into 2 cups warm water; shake to dissolve. Pour into a spray bottle and spray on leaves to fight powdery mildew.

Mite Fighter – ¼ cup buttermilk, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2-1/2 gallons water, combine and spray on plants.   

Pepper Hot Shot – 2 Tablespoons cayenne pepper, 5 drops liquid dish soap, 1 gallon water; combine all and spray underside of leaves to fight beetles.

Garlic Spray Concentrate -  4 cloves minced garlic combined with 1 Tablespoon oil; set aside overnight. Strain mixture and add to 2 cups water along with 1 teaspoon dish soap; shake to blend.  To use: Dilute first:  Fill a spray bottle with 2 cups water and 2 Tablespoons Garlic Concentrate; shake. Spray undersides of leaves to discourage beetles and mites.

I hope these natural remedies help in keeping your garden healthy so you can enjoy the fruits of your summertime labor!

summer berries in kitchen

Summer berries. Photo by: Mary Murray, Windy Meadows Farm

What does the remainder of July hold for our farm? Rich from start to finish, July offers us the taste of sweet berries and tangy peppers, back roads and byways, the clamor of songbirds, and sun-drenched days to remember.

Sweet summertime...enjoy every minute!

Mary Murray is a goat wrangler, chicken whisperer, bee maven, and farmers market baker at Windy Meadows Farm. She rehabilitated her 1864 Ohio farm property and is ready to share the many stories that come with farm living. Read all of Mary’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Grow Successful Sweet Corn

Our third, fourth and fifth plantings of sweet corn and our irrigation sprinkler. Photo by Bridget Aleshire. 

Caring for Your Sweet Corn Crop

Sweet corn needs hoeing and weeding at least twice, once two weeks after sowing, and once at four weeks. Even better are four rounds: at 7, 14, 21 days (when the plants are 6-12” (15-30cm) tall) and finally one around 35 days when they are 18-20” (45-50cm) high. We use a walk-behind tiller, and follow up with hoeing and thinning. A wheel hoe can be a great tool for this job if you don’t have or want a rototiller.

Never allow soil in corn plantings to dry out. At tight spacing this becomes very important. You might need more than 1” (2.5cm) per week for maximum productivity, although corn is more drought tolerant than some crops. The most important times for watering are silking (when the silks first become visible outside the husks) and while the ears are filling out.

Flame-weeding can be used after planting before the corn emerges, or after the crop is 2” (5cm) tall, using a carefully directed flame. Consult ATTRA Flame Weeding for Vegetable Crops

People used to recommend removing the suckers that came from the base of the plant, thinking it led to higher yields. This idea has been tested, and in fact it can damage plants and possibly even reduce yields.

Undersowing Cover Crops in Sweet Corn

Another practice that has been shown to lower yields rather than raise them is planting into strips tilled in a white clover living mulch.  Jeanine Davis addresses this in NCSU’s Organic Sweet Corn Production. The clover can out-compete the corn, become invasive and hard to get rid of. Soil temperatures will be lower (a disadvantage in spring) and slugs and rodents may increase.

A more successful practice is sowing a cover crop into the corn 28-35 days after emergence. We undersow with soybeans (oats and soybeans for our last planting). Although soybeans don’t supply the highest amount of nitrogen compared to other legumes, soybeans are cheap, quick, somewhat shade tolerant and can withstand the foot traffic during harvesting. Other growers sow forage brassicas. Research has shown that this does not depress corn yields. The brassicas can be harvested for forage after the sweet corn harvest is finished. Undersowing with white clover is also possible, if you can leave it to grow after the corn is finished.

Harvest Sweet Corn All Summer

In order to have a continuous supply of sweet corn all summer, a bit of planning and record-keeping is called for so that each year’s plan can be fine-tuned. The easy and approximate method of getting a good supply is to sow more corn when the previous sowing has 3-4 leaves, or is 1-2” (2.5-5cm) tall. That will be about every two weeks.

For fine-tuning for the most even supply, nothing beats real information about what happened, written at the time it happened. We have a Planting Schedule on a clipboard in the shed, and we write down actual sowing dates (next to the planned sowing date), and harvest start and finish dates. See Growing sweet corn for the whole summer to read about the Succession Planting method to calculate best planting dates and intervals for a continuous supply. We make six plantings: 4/26, 5/19, 6/6, 6/24, 7/7 and 7/16, to provide fresh eating every two weeks. The planting intervals are 23, 18, 18, 13, and 9 days.

By planting three varieties each time, we get new corn coming in three times during each two weeks. Sow varieties with differing days to maturity. We sow Bodacious (77 days), Kandy Korn (89 days) and Silver Queen (96 days) on the same day, and get over two weeks of harvests.

 

Silver Queen sweet corn almost ready to harvest. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Early Maturing Sweet Corn Varieties

Remember, if you decide to grow several kinds, not to mix Sh2 kinds with anything else, or everything will taste starchy. For more on this, see my previous article Growing sweet corn for the whole summer.

Early Maturing Sh2 Varieties: The Supersweet corn varieties are where most of the attention goes these days, and bicolor is preferred. In order of maturity (speediness in ripening): Catalyst XR (bicolor, 66days); Sweetness synergistic (bicolor, 68d); Kickoff XR (bicolor, 69d); Temptress synergistic (bicolor, 70d); Xtra-Tender 2171 (bicolor, 71 d); Nicole (white, 72d); Xtra-tender 20173 (bicolor, 73d); Signature XR (bicolor, 73d); Anthem XR (bicolor, 74d); Natural Sweet Organic (bicolor, 74d); Xtra-tender 3473 (white, 75d); SS2742 (Bicolor, 75d)

Early Maturing SU Varieties: Among yellow SU cultivars, Earlivee is the earliest to mature, at 58 days, and Seneca Horizon matures in 65 days. Sugar Pearl at 73d is the earliest white cultivar to mature. Quickie, at 64 days, Double Standard (OP, 73d) and Butter and Sugar at 73 d, are the earliest bicolor cultivars to mature.

Early Maturing SE Varieties: Among yellow SE varieties, Precocious and Spring Treat mature earliest, at 66 and 67 days, respectively. Bodacious (yellow, 75d) is well worth the wait! Of white varieties, Spring Snow, at 65 days, is the earliest to mature. There are no bicolor SE varieties.

Early maturing SE+ varieties: Sugar Buns (yellow, 70 days); Trinity (bicolor, 68d)

Pests and Diseases of Sweet Corn

Crows and other birds can be troublesome, removing the seed before it even grows. We leave the row-marking ropes in place after sowing. Bird-scaring flash-tape may be even more effective. Rowcover would also work.

Some say interplanting corn with big vining squashes deters raccoons and other critters, but I think it deters people too!

There are several caterpillar pests. An integrated organic approach to keeping pest numbers below economically damaging levels includes crop rotations, tillage, choosing resistant or tolerant varieties, encouraging beneficial insects, and ensuring adequate fertility and water. The next step is to scout for pests regularly, and take action as required.

Corn Ear Worm (CEW) is the most common pest. There may be six generations a year in the South. These caterpillars can bite – it’s just a nip, but can be a shock! A first line of defense is to choose varieties with tighter husks, which are harder for the worms to get into (Bodacious, Tuxedo, Silver Queen). Natural predators can be encouraged by planting alyssum or other small, open-flowered plants. You could buy Trichogramma wasps.

Caterpillars can also be dealt with putting a few drops of vegetable oil in the tip of each ear. Mixing with Bt gives better results, when applied 2-3 days past the full-brush stage of silking. . The Zea-later was a tool developed for applying vegetable oil in the tip of each ear, mixed with Bt, 2-3 days past the full-brush stage of silking. Unfortunately the treatment caused pollination problems at the tip of the ears, and so it has fallen out of use. If pest numbers are not too high, you can simply cut or snap the ends off the ears.

European Corn Borer (ECB) drills through the whorl of leaves of the young plants, leaving a pattern of large holes as the plant develops. Bt and Spinosad will kill these, as will Trichogramma wasps. To reduce damage in future years, be sure to mow and disk old corn stalks into the soil at the first opportunity. Organically farmed soils have less of a problem with ECB.

Fall Army Worms (FAW) are also killed by Bt and Spinosad. These three pests (CEW, ECB, FAW) can be monitored in a single program, starting when the corn plants are at the whorl stage. At that point, scout for FAW, and treat if more than 15% of your plants are infested. At the pre-tassel and tassel stage scout for ECB and FAW. If infestation exceeds 15%, make a foliar spray with Bt or Spinosad. Check again in a week and repeat if needed. Then at the early silk stage, look for CEW and if needed, inject oil in the tips. If you also see ECB moths, apply Bt or Spinosad.

Cutworm can be a problem following sod, or if there are adjacent grassy areas. Bait them with bran, cornmeal and hardwood sawdust mixed with molasses and water – these baits swell inside the pests and kill them. For more effectiveness, add Bt to the mix.

Corn Rootworms are best controlled by rigorous rotations. Spotted cucumber beetles are the adults of corn rootworms.

For a more complete description of corn insect pests, see the 2004 Organic Insect Management in Sweet Corn by Ruth Hazzard & Pam Westgate. It includes good photos of the beasties. Cornell has a good Resource Guide for Organic Pest and Disease Management. Search under Crop Management Practices for Sweet Corn.  Be aware of the updated info on the pollination issues with applying oil in the ear tips, since these publications came out.

Corn Smut fungus (Ustilago maydis), known in Mexico as Huitlacoche, is edible at the stage when the galls are firm and tender. The flavor is sweetish. Silver Queen is the variety “best” at producing this fungus, should you wish to grow it. We carefully harvest the infected ears (or pieces of stem) into a special Smut Bucket, trying not to scatter the spores. Because none of us like this delicacy, we take it to the compost pile.

Our first harvest of sweet corn (Bodacious). Photo by Pam Dawling

Sweet Corn Harvest

Harvest corn before daybreak for best flavor, because the sugars manufactured in the plant the day before become concentrated during the night. Harvest may start 18-24 days after half the ear silks show, if the weather has been reasonably warm. Judging corn’s ripeness is a skill, based on information from many of the senses.

The first sign we look for is brown dead silks. If the ear has passed that test, we investigate further. All ears should look and feel plump and rounded to the tip. Each variety is a little different, so close attention is needed. Some varieties exhibit “flagging” of the ear, meaning it leans away from the stalk as it matures and gets heavier. New crew can test for ripeness by opening the side of the husk with thumb nails, and puncturing a kernel: the kernels should look filled-out and rectangular, not round and pearly; the juice should be milky, not watery or doughy. The advantage of opening the side of the husks is that it is possible to close the gap if the ear is not ripe, without risk of collecting dew or rainfall. If the ear is ripe, we bend it downwards, give it a quarter-turn twist, and then pull up away from the plant.

Harvest every day or every other day. Leaving a three-day gap risks poor quality starchy ears and a lower total yield. After harvest, refrigerate the corn quickly, and keep it cool until it reaches the boiling water.

Some of this information comes from my book, Sustainable Market Farming.

Another good resource is ATTRA Sweet Corn: Organic Production 

In July 2014, I wrote Growing sweet corn for the whole summer.

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her books, Sustainable Market Farming, and The Year-Round Hoophouse are available at www.sustainablemarketfarming.com. Her blog is on her website and also on facebook.com/SustainableMarketFarming.


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This Tech Startup Could Reward Small Farmers for Sustainable Practices

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture “There’s an app for that”.

It’s not only a trademarked slogan of Apple, it's becoming a fact of life. Well, what if I were to tell you that there is a new app in development that will help reward farmers for adopting sustainable practices. An app that will create a marketplace for farmers to sell their produce directly to buyers, and allows farmers to cooperatively purchase inventory to lower their operating costs.

Seems like a big ask right? Well, that is exactly what the folks over at the Carbon Drawn Initiative are building with Genihub, A tool designed to reward farmers for adopting sustainable practices, and much, much more. But before we dive into what exactly GeniHub is, I want to give you a bit of a background.

The Soil from Which this Tech Springs

Tokya Dammond, a co-founder of the Carbon Drawn Initiative, is a family friend. Over the years, I have done a lot of odd jobs for him as I grew up. From cutting his grass to attempting to fix his old, out-of-date BMW. During the years of working with Tokya, I learned about his company, SymBio.

Symbio is an international company that Tokya used to develop organic supply chains. A company he has operated for three decades, SymBio has always encouraged farmers and companies to adopt more sustainable practices, oftentimes working with farmers directly to teach them how to be more sustainable and creating an avenue for them to sell their produce.

This 30-year experience has played a crucial role in the development of the GeniHub tool, created by the Carbon Drawn Initiative. So what exactly is GeniHub?

Take a Look at GeniHub

Tokya Dammond, Co-founder of The Carbon Drawn Initiative, says to “think of it as the combination of Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal of Regenerative Food. Farmers will love how Geni automates all their payments plus their bookkeeping and accounting for you — it doesn’t matter which bank or accounting program you use. Geni is designed to truly be your "Geni in the bottle" (or in this case, in their smartphones). All the while helping farmers steward their land while growing nutritious foods.”

Genihub performs a lot of roles including to track produce from the seed stock to the farmer, and from the farmer to the production line. It allows farmers to co-op and buy equipment, seed, fertilizer, and more, and creates a new marketplace for farmers to sell directly to buyers. Finally, it allows corporations to reward farmers for adopting sustainable practices.

GeniHub Diagram Of Farmer Services Photo by Carbon Drawn Initiative

GeniHub will Track Produce from Source to Table

GeniHub will track a farmer's purchases like the seed and fertilizer they purchase. And follow the produce as it is grown all the way to the manufacturing plant they are sent to.

How is this helpful?  Well, not only will GeniHub help manage your accounting. It will act to verify that your produce is grown the way you say it is. In much the same way that farmers pay hefty fees to get their produce certified as organic or non-GMO. GeniHub will improve the integrity of produce, and increase consumer confidence in the products they purchase, at no added cost to farmers.

For example, if an oat farmer in Wisconsin does not use synthetic fertilizers, and practices crop rotation. GeniHub will be able to verify this with their purchase history, and other auditing methods. This will allow consumers to be more informed about the products they are purchasing. Which can create a deeper level of trust in a product that does not currently exist.

The App Will Allow Farmers to Co-op for Purchases

“Being able to work with other farms would help us learn and utilize different technologies,” says Nate Krause, Operations Manager at Swans Trail Farms. “It is one thing to get hard data on our growing practices, but being able to interpret the information and apply them to our growing program is key.”

To put it simply, things are better when we work together. However, that is not always as simple as it seems. But GeniHub creates a collaborative space for farmers as part of what they call “Regen Street”. Essentially the Wall Street for regenerative farmers.

The technology will allow farmers to take advantage of bulk discounts by allowing them to collectively purchase seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. Additionally, farmers can co-op to purchase equipment that they need to implement a new sustainable practice, but simply cannot afford on their own.

And through the tracing of which practices work and don’t work, GeniHub will be able to provide feedback on what practices or produce work best in each region.

Creates a B2B and B2C Marketplace

In many ways, GeniHub serves as both a Facebook of sorts combined with an Amazon marketplace. Verifying products exist and that they are the quality they are said to be.

Farmers small and large will collectively gain access to a global market of businesses and consumers. Here they can list their produce and set their own price. And even allow them to negotiate with buyers through the GeniHub network.

For example, let's say two farmers offer a similar oat product. Both have been verified as being non-GMO crops grown without pesticides. One farmer wants $2 a pound for his products and another is happy with $1 a pound. Meanwhile, the buyer is willing to pay $1.50 a pound.

In this scenario, Geni will notify each of them and automate the sale by serving as the “middleman”, much like how eBay automates the sale of a T-shirt. Additionally, the buyer will get details he wouldn’t otherwise receive about the produce such as; the region where the produce was grown if any pesticides were used, the variety of seed that was used, and any other practices the farmer may have implemented.

Allows Corporations to Reward Farmers Sustainable Practices

“Carbon Drawn plans to donate Geni to farmers around the world so that you will be able to login and have all of your marketplace transactions automated,” says Dammond. “Better yet, farmers can connect with other farmers to enter markets together. Even connecting with NGOs for financial assistance. Geni even allows you to connect directly to consumers and larger buyers. Geni will be able to authenticate the quality of inputs and products all along the way.”

In my opinion, this is one of the coolest features of the GeniHub marketplace. Here’s the deal: Corporations know that the last century of mono-cropping agriculture is simply unsustainable. And the last thing a corporation that turns a profit selling food wants is a collapse in the supply chain due to a new disease, drought, or other natural disaster.

As a result, corporations are constantly creating incentives for farmers to develop more sustainable practices. From purchasing carbon credits to giving farmers grants for practicing crop rotation. Corporations are continually looking to invest in more sustainable agriculture to stabilize their supply chains. As a result, farmers large and small can receive benefits, or higher profit margins by adopting better practices. And GeniHub will allow farms of all sizes to access these grants.

How Farmers Can Be Involved

GeniHub will aim to revolutionize the way that produce is grown, bought, and sold around the world. Furthermore, it creates a tool that small and mid-sized farmers with sustainability in mind can use as leverage to compete with the mega-farms using “conventional” farming practices.

Best of all, the tech is free for small farmers who qualify. The application is expected to be released and functional by the end of 2021. Only time will tell how impactful this app will be on the market, but it couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Douglas Dedrick is landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him at Healing Law, and read all of Douglas’ MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.  

Illustrated Guide to Growing Radishes

With proper planting and care, your small radish patch can award you with plenty of delicious harvest.
Photo by Michael Feldmann

Radishes are incredibly easy to grow, as they tolerate most soil types and are very quick to be ready for harvest (usually within three to four weeks). They’re delicious when eaten raw, offering a fiery burst of flavor to salads.

There’s a wide variety of radish cultivars to choose from, ranging from near-spherical red-and-white roots to long, thin white radishes, also known as mooli. And however, growing radishes is not hard at all. In fact, with proper planting and care, nearly anyone can become a successful radish gardener.

Choosing Your Favorite Variety

 

Radishes are so easy to care for and grow so quickly that you won't even notice when the harvest is ready.
Illustration by Mary Peterson

Most commercial radishes are red, but there are white, red-and-white, and even black ones. There are two main types: ordinary ones, small and quick maturing, and winter ones, larger and more pungent. Both the flesh and skin of ordinary radishes are edible, but the skin of winter radishes should be removed to expose the white inner tissue.

Fine ordinary radish varieties are:

  • Burpee White. ‘Burpee White’ radishes, best eaten at 1″ across. It is quick and easy to grow in cool weather. They are ready to be harvested in around 25 days after planting.
  • Cherry Belle. ‘Cherry Belle’ is an extra-early variety with exceptionally short tops and bright red skin color. They are ready to be harvested in about 21 to 27 days after planting
  • French Breakfast. ‘French Breakfast’ is a large, scarlet radish, oblong in shape with white tips. The flesh is crisp, juicy, mild, and sweet. French Breakfast radishes are ready to be harvested in around 20 days after planting.

 

‘Cherry Belle’ is an excellent radish variety with exceptionally short tops and bright red skin color.
Illustration by Mary Peterson

  • Sparkler. ‘Sparkler’ is ready in 25 days, bearing white roots that change to pink closer to the leafy stems. Novelty radishes, including the following, are becoming more popular.
  • White Icicle. White Icicle radishes have a snowy white color and are ready to be harvested in about 32 days. This heirloom radish can grow to be 5 to 6 inches in length and about 1 inch in diameter.

Good winter radish varieties are:

‘Round Black Spanish’ radishes have a white interior and black skin. They are ready to be harvested in around 55 days after sowing seeds.
Illustration by Mary Peterson

  • Round Black Spanish. ‘Round Black Spanish’ radishes have a snow-white interior and jet-black skin. A very old heirloom variety. They are ready to be harvested in about 55 days after planting.
  • White Chinese. Also called Celestial, white, 6 to 8 inches long, 2 to 3 inches across. A 12-foot row yields about 6 pounds over a week. They are ready to be harvested in around 60 days after planting.

Growing Radishes in the Garden

Radishes provide beauty in the garden and abundant flavor in your kitchen. Radishes are very easy to grow and, once planted, require little care besides watering and harvesting. So, if you're just getting started with an edible garden, radishes are great to start. Here are some easy tips on planting and caring for these almost carefree, beautiful, flavorful plants.

Radishes tolerate partial shade and grow best in well-worked, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. They grow fast; fertilizer applied after planting will not reach the roots, so prepare the soil before sowing: dig about 2 inches of compost or 4 inches of cow manure into a strip 12 to 18 inches wide and 8 inches deep, then add 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer to every 10 feet of row.

In most of the United States and Canada, where frost is expected in winter, sow seeds of ordinary varieties in early spring when the soil can be worked and continue to plant every 10 days until a month before maximum daytime temperatures are expected to average over 80 degrees Fahrentheit. In late summer, when maximum daytime temperatures average below 80°, start successive plantings of ordinary radishes again and continue until night temperatures drop to about 40 degrees. Sow winter radishes once, about two months before minimum night temperatures average below 20 degrees; they can be harvested in fall for storing over winter.

In regions where winter temperatures rarely fall below 30 degrees, start successive plantings of both types in fall; make the final planting of ordinary radishes a month before maximum daytime temperatures average above 80 degrees, and make the final planting of winter radishes a month earlier.

Sow seeds ½-inch deep. Space ordinary varieties 12 inches apart in rows 4 to 6 inches apart. When seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, thin them to stand 1 inch apart. When sowing winter varieties, group three or four seeds in a spot; set each group 4 to 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. When seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, cut off all but the strongest in each group. Give your radishes enough water to keep the roots growing quickly.

Gathering the Harvest

 

Nothing can compare to a fresh juicy harvest of homegrown radishes.
Photo By Michael Feldmann

The time from planting to harvest is 20 to 30 days for spring radishes, and 50 to 60 days for winter radishes. Pull up the whole plant when the radishes are the right size. Test- pull a few or push the soil aside gently to judge the size, and remember that the biggest radishes aren't necessarily the best. If you wait too long to harvest, the centers of spring radishes become pithy.

Storing and Preserving Radishes

There are several ways of storing radishes. In the home, they can be stored for up to two weeks in zipper plastic bags in the fridge. Line the inside of the bags with moistened paper towels to keep them damp. Remove the leaves and roots but don’t wash the radishes for optimal storage.

Alternatively, radishes can be stored in the basement or cellar. This is also the longest storage method and you can expect radishes to store up to three months this way. The basement or cellar should be unheated and dark with between 34 and 42 degrees, and high humidity. The radishes should be put in cardboard or wooden boxes with moist sand or dirt. Spread the unwashed and untrimmed radishes between layers of sand or dirt, making sure the roots don’t touch. Check them once every several weeks for rot.

Radishes can also be successfully stored by pickling. This way is very easy, effective, and delicious. Wash your radishes well and remove the leaves and stems. Then slice the radishes thinly and place them in a sterilized jar. Heat vinegar, spices, sugar, and salt in a saucepan until boiling, then pour over the radishes. Seal the jar and allow it to cool. Allow the radishes to pickle for at least 2 to 3 days. This way, radishes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

Propagating Radishes by Saving Seeds

To save seeds from your radishes, allow several plants to bloom together, and wait until the seed pods dry and turn brown before harvesting the seeds. The seeds can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to five years.


Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Understand Promiscuous Pollination in Landrace Gardening

 

Pile of farm fresh watermelon
Photo by Pixabay/paulbr75

Promiscuous pollination is essential to the long-term survival of landrace crops. Some species are very promiscuous. Other species are mostly self-pollinating, crossing occasionally.

Promiscuous pollination rearranges the genetics of the plants. Shifting genetics allows life to adapt to changes in the ecosystem or in farming practices.

Pollination is Highly Localized

A flower is most likely to be pollinated by the nearest compatible flower. The closer we inter-plant different varieties, the more likely they are to cross. I typically sow the barely crossing varieties jumbled together to get the most crossing possible.

The mathematics of pollination are quadratic, meaning that doubling the distance between two flowers cuts the chances of cross-pollination to a quarter. Increasing the distance tenfold lowers the chances of cross-pollination a hundredfold.


Pollen flow between flowers. Diagram by Joseph Lofthouse

Pollen flow is highly localized
Diagram by Joseph Lofthouse

The graph showing pollen flow between flowers applies at any scale. It applies to the separate flowers in the umbel of a carrot as it does between umbels on the same plant. It applies to separate plants in the same patch, and to separate patches in the same field.

An awareness of the highly localized nature of pollination allows us to design plantings to either minimize pollination for maintaining isolation distances, or to maximize it to encourage crossing.

Purity and Isolation Distances

People express fear about saving seeds. What if they flub isolation distances? What if a variety gets polluted? How about inbreeding depression? What if the seed is a hybrid? What about poisons and deformed monster plants? My response is that those things are of little consequence.

The essential knowledge regarding seed saving is that plants produce seeds. They can be harvested and replanted. For plant breeding, add that offspring resemble their parents and grandparents. Sometimes a trait skips a generation.

Growing Landrace Populations

Growing landrace populations greatly simplifies seed saving. It reduces worry about plant purity and isolation distances. Worrying about purity is one of the biggest impediments to seed saving. Maintaining purity leads to inbreeding depression. I don’t worry much about isolation distances or keeping cultivars pure. Plants are stronger when cultivars cross-pollinate each other. If a Hubbard squash and a banana squash cross-pollinate, the offspring are still squash. They grow like squash, they look like squash, they cook like squash.

When two great varieties cross, the offspring inherit greatness. People started domesticating plants up to 40,000 years ago. The vast majority of undesirable traits have been eliminated from domesticated crops. I don’t observe crossed plants turning into poisonous mutants. When two highly domesticated varieties cross, the offspring are likewise highly domesticated. The offspring’s traits blend those of the parent varieties.

Hybrid seeds
Illustration by Joseph Lofthouse

Troubleshooting When Plant Breeding Goes Wrong

Sometimes I make crosses to wild, less-domesticated parents. I hope to incorporate more diversity. Occasionally in those crosses, I find a poisonous fruit, or other undesirable traits. Melon, squash, cucumber, bean, and lettuce poisons are well behaved. They taste horrid. Terrible tastes are a good indication that a plant produces poisons. Nightshades might taste good, but the poisons make me want to barf.

I planted a “pocket melon”, which is a tiny cantaloupe with a perfume smell. I taste every fruit before saving seeds. The pocket melons tasted nasty! Poison in melons tastes horrid. I discarded the whole year’s seed crop. I couldn’t risk introducing poison into the cantaloupes.

When I introduced genetics from wild watermelons, the “exploding melon” trait appeared. If jostled while sun-warmed, the fruits popped open. Gradual selection eliminated the trait in a few years.

I consider tepary beans to be semi-domesticated. My original strains had a trait which I call “hard seed.” About 10% of the seeds wouldn’t absorb water when soaked. They would take weeks or months to germinate. I eliminated that trait by pre-soaking the seeds, and only planting those that absorbed water immediately. The wild watermelon brought the same trait with them, which self-eliminated. Watermelon is a full-season crop at my place. Plants that take a long time to germinate don’t reproduce before frost.

These days, if I choose to grow wild ancestors of domesticated crops, I grow them in a separate field for a few years. This ensures that they don’t introduce unfortunate traits. It’s easier to keep them isolated in the beginning, rather than eliminating a trait later on.

I keep hot peppers separate from sweet peppers. I don't care what a sweet pepper looks like. It can be any shape, any color, or any size as long as it is not hot. The most important sweet pepper trait in my garden is: “must produce fruit.”

Considerations for Inbreeding Crops

For the mostly inbreeding crops like common beans and grains, I consider them isolated at 10 feet (3 meters) apart. With the mostly outcrossing crops, I consider them isolated at 100 feet (30 meters) apart. I observe around 1% to 5% crossing at that distance.

Crops flowering at different times don’t cross-pollinate. An early maturing and a late maturing corn may grow next to each other, without worry of crossing. That’s how I grow flour corn and sweet corn in the same field.

Likewise, inbreeding depression is only a problem when growing a cultivar in strict isolation. It doesn't much matter how many plants are in the population if new genes arrive regularly. The inflow of new genes is counteracting the gene loss due to inbreeding.

I wonder if the “minimum number of parents” recommendations are a ruse by the mega-seed companies to discourage people from saving seeds. The standards necessary for growing a seed crop for the entire world are much different from what is required for growing local food for the local neighborhood. I’m not going to suggest magic numbers of how many plants to save seeds from. Save seeds from as many as is easy for you and your community. Be generous during selection. If a variety loses vigor, allow it to cross with something else.

I don’t care if there are a few percent off-types in what I grow. I’m harvesting by hand. I’m holding each vegetable in my hand before cooking. If I don’t like it, I compost it or feed it to animals.


Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardening in order to feed his community more effectively. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.






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