Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

Biodynamic Farming

What is Biodynamic Agriculture?

Most people know what organic farming is, but only a few know what Biodynamic agriculture is. Biodynamics was introduced in the 1920’s by an Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. This manner of farming takes a unified approach to agriculture by considering the interconnectedness of the soil, the plants, animals, the earth and even the entire cosmos as a living system.  It is considered as one the most sustainable forms of agriculture. The focus of Biodynamic Agriculture is developing and maintaining a healthy soil organism through the use of manure, crop-rotation, cover-cropping and special preparations.  The farm is considered as an entire living organism, with the farmer and his practices as playing a vital role to the farm ecosystem. 

 

What makes it different from organic farming?  

As in organic farming, there is no use of chemicals, pesticides or fungicides.  However, biodynamics goes beyond organic farming.  It treats the soil as a living organism and ensures the health of the soil at all times.  Thus, biodynamic farming looks at the farm in terms of forces that affect the soil and the farm, processes that go into farming, rather than just the substances that are put into the soil or plants. Biodynamic agriculture makes use of compost (manure from animals already in the farm), cover cropping, ecological pest management, and special preparations that revitalize life forces, stimulate the roots and help in the production of soil microorganisms and humus. These preparations are homeopathic substances made from herbs, minerals, plant and animal, at very minuscule portions. Aside from the special preparations, Biodynamic agriculture follows daily, monthly and seasonal patterns of nature, such as the phases of the moon for sowing, fertilizing and harvesting.

Our farm

Our farm practices biodynamic farming in growing flowers (and vegetables too!)  We see our farm as an entire ecosystem.  Our farm follows a biodynamic calendar for optimum times for sowing, harvesting and transplanting. This is because Biodynamic Agriculture follows daily, monthly and seasonal patterns of nature, such as the phases of the moon, the movement of the planets and the stars.  We also use biodynamic preparations for our soil and leaves. These preparations are homeopathic substances made from herbs, minerals, plant and animal, at very minuscule portions. We have learned to follow the cycles and phases of the moon in scheduling our pest management and control, taking into account that the life cycles of these creatures that coincide with the moon’s phases.  We also follow crop rotation, and practice cover cropping.

Aside from flowers, our flower farm has now a vegetable patch, devoted to plants that do not only adorn our tables but we can eat as well!   The farm grows lettuces, arugula, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, celery, alfalfa sprouts, spinach and several kinds of herbs. More than this, we have planted the vegetables to create patches of ecosystems for all nature in our farm. We do so by growing in all our vegetable beds, a mix of legumes, leaf plants, root crops, annual and perennial plants in one bed. Thus, legumes will provide nitrogen (fertilizer) through their roots.  Root crops, taking nutrients from the soil, help aerate the beds, benefiting all plants. Herbs and flowers serve as homes for beneficial insects and also repel the harmful ones.

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Rethinking Water Use in Agriculture

DAM, I wish you had more water.

No one seems to be thinking about a rain dance yet, but our taps are about to run dry. They are rationing water in Metro Manila. Now who would have thought we would have a shortage of water? Fresh water always seemed like a waterfall- infinitely gushing out of rocks. It is July 2010 and our dams are dehydrated, experiencing a historical record low. In the meantime, there will be 12 million people in Metro Manila, drinking, bathing and washing from Angat Dam’s reservoir. They have tightened our taps to give us 30% less and the problem seems negligible. Don’t run the taps while I brush my teeth. No more soaks in the tub. Change showerheads. Schedule laundry. Reuse gray water. But the seemingly slight problem of having less water to bathe, drink and wash with, dwarfs the bigger problem of Climate Change and food security, which has a lot to do with water.

Agriculture accounts for drawing 70% of the world’s fresh waters. Fresh water irrigates our lands and provides food for the world’s exploding population. As our population grows, so will our food requirements, and so will our demand for water. And as more water is drawn than is given, we will have to do with less for growing our food. Our farm tries to be a conscientious consumer. We try to draw just enough water to quench the thirst of our greedy plants. With a few water conservation and harvesting methods that rely more on Green Water rather than Blue, we would like to think our water does not just go down the drain.

SOIL FERTILITY

Good soils can capture, hold and store water better. The secret to needing less water is having rich living soil. This we do by having more organic matter in our soil.

TRICKLE IRRIGATION

 

Farms traditionally used elaborate irrigation systems, which were designed when water supply was plentiful. Trickle irrigation is an innovative and efficient method of irrigation. It is called “trickle” because water drips slowly directly to the roots of plants through pipes (with small holes.) You save water because water drips directly where it’s needed. There is no runoff or wasted water. You also reduce evaporation, soil erosion and deep drainage. This method helps us get rid of many foliar or root diseases that spread through the water. Trickle irrigation also uses a lower pressure than other methods of irrigation, thus reducing energy costs as well. Some people find the “trickle irrigation” installation costs expensive. However, the initial investment is easily paid off with savings in water, energy, and the priceless value of saving the environment too.

IRRIGATION SCHEDULING

We schedule our work in the farm so we take advantage of the natural cycles. Evaporation depends on the climate, temperature and humidity. As there is less evaporation at night, we irrigate our plants closer to the evening so we decrease the loss of water through evaporation. A full moon means there is an increase in the water element. We sow our seeds two days before a full moon to take advantage of the water. A new moon means more water in the soil. Two days before a new moon, we do our transplanting to take advantage of the soil’s increased water content.

MULCHING

Mulch on the beds

 

Our mulch consists of weeds, flower trimmings, legumes, rice hulls, and wild sunflowers. We apply the mulch to our flowerbeds in layers of 2-4 inches. Mulching saves our water by helping our soils retain much of the water they get. I have read that a layer of mulch can reduce water evaporation by as much as seventy (70%) percent! Not only that, mulching is also fertilizer, and thus improves our soil by helping break down nitrogen and releasing more nutrients.

RAIN HARVESTING, GROUNDWATER RECHARGING AND CANAL LININGS

Raised beds for less tilling; Contour farming and Canals

 

Rainwater falls from the rooftops of our greenhouses straight to micro basins or canals, which catch them. We also ensure that we line the canals with thick mulch (4 inches at least) to ensure less evaporation. Since our greenhouses are constructed on a slope, the rainwater gently seeps towards and is absorbed by our flowerbeds.

TERRACING, CONTOURING and MICRO BASINS

We take advantage of the natural sloping topography of our farm to direct precipitation run-off to our flowerbeds. To prevent soil run-off however, we have planted legumes to act as breaks.

NATURAL WINDBREAKS

We have planted legumes in between our greenhouses and at the boundary of our farm to act as windbreaks. The windbreaks again reduce evaporation.

CONSERVATION TILLAGE

We have raised beds our flower beds so our flowers get more aeration in its roots. By doing so, we do not need to till as often, and we protect our topsoil. A good topsoil won’t be washed out by rain.

WATER-FREE TOILETS

Why waste perfectly clean water and flush dirt down the drain? Our toilets are water free. Waste is caught by sawdust treated with beneficial microbes to hasten decomposition. And because the waste matter and sawdust has been treated with microbes, there is no smell. People use about 6 liters of water per flush. Since we opted to use a no-flush, water-free toilet, we save approximately more than 8,000 liters of water per year.

WATER AS NEEDED

I believe there is enough water for everyone. There should be. But just like money, just like oil, and just like any other precious resource, we do not know how to handle it, splurging and exploiting it to excess, while denying it’s wealth to the rest of the world. Our farm’s method hopes to improve on the way we use water, drawing only as much as we need, and putting the water we get to efficient and productive use. Take only what you need and pay it forward.

OUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS: Beneficial Insects and Integrated Pest Management

Our farm enjoys an eclectic mix of neighbors. A handful of ladies wearing red with black polka-dots; nosy busybodies buzzing around, burly enough that our farmers would sometimes stay out of our greenhouses for fear of their stings; chirpy visitors, some of them laying pretty blue eggs in our leaves-turned-nest; fairy-like creatures with golden eyes; and teeny-weeny ones, among the smallest in the world. The unique bunch do a lot of work for the farm: they rid us of aphids, mites, caterpillars, white flies and other nasty insects. Some say they are part of the farm’s Integrated Pest Management. Others like to call them Beneficial Insects. We would rather call them our FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS. We highlight three of the most fascinating ones here:

LADYBUGS

Ladybug at Work

Don’t mess with adorable ladies in red and black polka dresses.  They are quite fearless. In our farm, they have taken on the heroic task of battling aphid colonies, which feed on our young leaves, new shoots and baby buds. Don’t let their tiny bodies deceive you because lady beetles are ravenous! They eat up to 1000 aphids a day. Even as larvae they can eat 500 aphids! And mind you, they do it by stabbing the nasty aphids with their mandibles and sucking out the juices. It is no wonder why the ladybug in ancient times, symbolized good fortune and a bountiful harvest.  One fun trivia about lady beetles: In times of danger, ladybugs are able to roll over and play dead.

LACE WINGS

Lacewings, Commander in Chief

Another friendly neighbor is the Lace Wing. In an Insect-Eating Contest, lacewings would be adjudged the champions.  In a battle, lacewings would definitely be commander. Lacewings are beautiful creatures with delicate netted wings and golden eyes. They look ethereal and you wonder where they get their voracious appetites. As larvae, they feed on aphids, whitefly, mealy bugs, thrips, spider mites and caterpillars. The lacewings can eat 200 or more pest eggs a week during their 2-3 week growth period! They are also our gutsy crusaders against the whitefly. White flies are small insects that cluster under our leaves and stems, and are especially bad for our roses. Not only these, lacewings feed on other insect pests such as mealy bugs (that cause black sooty mold on our plants), thrips (that make our leaves distorted or spreads diseases) and caterpillars too (otherwise we have chewed leaves.)
Stingless Wasps  (Trichogramma)

Recently moved in are the stingless wasps (Trichogramma). These are tiny insects of about 1 millimeter and they control at least 28 species of insect pests. These wasps are one of the smallest insects on the planet. We released 10,000 wasps and they are now roaming about our farm, parasitizing pest eggs. Our wasps are busy “sowing their seeds” into the harmful eggs of caterpillars and moth (the leafeaters,) among others. When the wasps hatch, the larvae will devour the pest egg contents. During their 9-11 day lives, the wasps will seek out and destroy about 50 pest eggs by laying their eggs into the pest eggs. I know it reads like a horror movie but these are naturally occurring in nature. A trivia about wasps: The adult females use their antennae to measure the size of the host egg in order to determine how many eggs to lay in it.

These are just some of the biological controls we use in the farm, as part of Integrated Pest Management. Biological controls eliminate the overuse of chemicals, increasing biodiversity. Our farm is blessed with ladybugs, lacewings, and most recently, are now the happy hosts of stingless wasps. Our friendly neighbors are beneficial insects who pay their rent by ridding our farms with pests while compensated with an abundance of good pests to eat.

http://www.myflowerdepot.com

Our flowers drink milk

Ainara watching the Cow giving us milk

There’s never an end to the wonderful discoveries we make everyday. Got fungus? Or powdery mildew? Get milk. We’ve just recently discovered that milk is a Fungicide! It’s as effective (maybe even more effective) as standard chemical brands. How to do it? Get milk, mix with water (our solution is 1 part milk: 10 parts water) and spray twice a week.  You can do trial and error and see how milky you want your solution to be and how often you need to spray. We use fresh milk as we have milking cows in the farm. You can use skim or whole milk though, even reconstituted powdered milk. They say it is the phosphate in milk that boosts a plant’s immune system and fights the fungi. The first scientist to discover this was Wagner Bettiol, a Brazilian. Milk was found to be effective at controlling fungus and also acted as a foliar fertilizer, boosting the plant’s immune system.  We have saved thousands this year by just spraying our crops with milk instead of using synthetic chemicals and fungicides. Who would have thought we would find the solution to our fungicide problems right in our backyard? Or in your fridge?

Creating Christmas Wreaths

I truly sense people are going back to the old.  Christmas wreaths have always been a tradition, with evergreens handpicked and carefully arranged in a crown.  The past years however have substituted the fragrant wreaths with circular arrangements of plastic leaves, silver bells and golden balls.  This year however, I noticed a surge in people buying our Advent wreaths, or better yet, buying pine leaves and cypress, berries, pine cones and tiny limoniums from our farm and shop. If you want a little history, wreaths are associated with Apollo, the Greek god of life and health. That is why Greeks use the wreath as a crown for the Olympic games.

Wreath I made for my home

Traditional wreaths have always used evergreens as a symbol for strength of life.  These leaves are able to stay alive even in the harshest of winters.  Do you know that you can also use laurel leaves for your wreaths?  These have a nice scent and the smokey green color does wonders for your halo of leaves.

I made an Advent wreath for our home and the kids have a wonderful time smelling pine and rosemary, picking on berries and lighting candles.  It is quite easy to make.   Here in the Philippines, you can use leaves such as pine and cypress.  You can add some rosemary and eucalyptus leaves too.  Branches, twigs, every little natural thing you find in your garden or yard can provide a nice touch for your wreath.   I use pine cones, some red berries, and add little sprigs of limoniums which are purple and pink.

Here are a few tips for making your own wreath:

1.  Gather or buy an armful of leaves.  You can find pine and cypress leaves at flower shops or markets.

2.  Cut them into 6 inch sizes.

3.  Don’t forget to have little touches such as pine cones, red berries and small flowers. Use a wire wreath frame or make your own from a wire coat hanger. (Simply unbend it from the familiar shape into a circle; you can use the hook to hang your finished wreath.)

4.  I use a 12 inch Oasis floral foam that is already circular.  You can buy floral foam from the flower market or flower shops.  Dip the base in water until the foam is damp but not fully saturated.

Floral Foam

5.  Insert your foliage or leaves first and start placing them around the frame.  Keep the stems short and fill the entire wreath. I usually start with cypress leaves as a base and then alternate these with pine leaves. You will have a nice fun time putting leaves around the frame. Make sure that the stems face the same direction.

6.  Add pinecones by twisting wire around the base of the cone and then tying the cone’s tail to the wreath.

7.  You can also add red berries and limonium flowers for final touches.

8.  If you are using the wreath for Advent, simply insert 4 candles into the foam or wire wreath.

The wreaths stay fresh for four weeks.  Just spray it with water and sprinkle some water on the base.  Everyone should make a wreath because nothing compares to scents of fragrant pine or herbs wafting through the house, especia.  Christmas is in the air.

Organic Flowers: Why Should you Care

Conventional agriculture uses chemical inputs and machinery.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are energy-intensive.

That is the rough equivalent of the emissions of 88 million passenger cars each year.

That is more than the total number of cars in India, China, Australia, Canada and Mexico.

=If everyone converted 10% of their diet to organic, we could capture an additional 6.5 billion pounds of carbon in soil.

=That is equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road each year.

In a Nutshell

DO THE MATH.

Pesky Potions: Getting Rid of Pests the Natural Way

I recently wrote about the voluminous use of pesticides in plants and flowers. We also loathe pests and insects. Through the years, we have learned a few tricks to get rid of pests the natural way.

Healthy plants and healthy soil: One of the easiest ways to control pests in the farm is to prevent them from coming in! We have learned that healthy plants have healthy defenses. Just like us, when we are weak, we are more prone to sickness. Weak plants are either already infected, or will attract even more predators. What we do in the farm is pull out or dispose of weak plants. Do note that your most important defense is to have a healthy soil. Healthy soils grow strong and vibrant plants. We keep our soils in tip-top shape by natural composting methods such as mulching and using compost or natural fertilizer to the soil.

Healthy vibrant chrysanthemums

In fact, a new study from Washington State University suggests organic growing techniques offer better pest control and larger plants (published in the respected journal Nature.)

“Organic agriculture promotes more balanced communities of predators,” says David Crowder, author of the new study. […]”Our study does not tell farmers they should shift to organic agriculture. What our study suggests is that organic agriculture is promoting these more balanced natural enemy communities and they may have better, organic pest control.”

According to Nature: it is “the relative abundance of different species” rather than the number of species present on a farm that may determine success.  The study found that the increased evenness of organic farms compared with that of conventional farms led to 18% lower pest densities and 35% larger plants.

Here are some of the ways we get rid of our pests through organic farming, and get larger plants because of it:

Minimize insect habitats: Make sure that you do not have breeding places in your area for insects. In our farm, we regularly clean our greenhouses, making sure they are free from debris and weeds, which are breeding places for insects.

Keep the leaves dry: Insects and fungus thrive on wet leaves. Wet leaves also spread disease. In our farm, we use drip irrigation methods to water our plants. Drip irrigation delivers the water to the plant’s roots without wetting the leaves. How is this done? Tiny holes are inserted at various points in a hose, allowing small quantities of water to trickle slowly into the soil over long periods of time. Another advantage of this method is saving water. Unlike sprinkler systems, we use 30-50% less water, applying these directly to the area where the plants need it the most. Drip irrigation also prevents soil erosion and nutrient run-off.

Take advantage of beneficial insects: There are actually some insects or pests that are good for the farm or your garden. For example, LADYBUGS eat aphids, mites, whiteflies and scale (the worst pests for flowers.) That is why we just love ladybugs and take care of these insects in the farm.

Ladybugs are Welcome!

Make your own homemade pesticide barriers or sprays:

Flypaper: Do you know that ANY heavy paper or cardboard, painted with yellow and coated with anything sticky can be an effective flypaper? In our farm, we use recycled hard plastic containers, paint these yellow and then put sticky substances on them. We just hang these in our greenhouses and catch pesky aphids and whiteflies!

Do-it-yourself Sticky Traps

Neem Extract: We use a lot of Neem in the farm. Neem has remarkable powers for controlling insects. Its extract is used as a safe and natural pesticide. It is so unique because Neem does not immediately kill the insect. Instead, it alters an insect’s behavior or life processes in ways that can be extremely subtle. Eventually, however, the insect can no longer feed or breed or metamorphose, and cannot cause damage. Because of this subtle method, our crops, people, and animals are protected.

Fish Emulsion: We have replaced chemical pesticides with mixes of our fish emulsion. What is it? Fish waste, yes you read it right, foul and messy fish entrails! We gather all fish scraps from the markets, grind them, and mix them with an enzyme. We screen out the bones and decant the oil, and what remains is fish silage. Also, enzymes already in the ground fish continued to digest and break down to amino acids. More than a pesticide, it doubles as a great fertilizer. Fish emulsions are wonderful sources of nutrients!

So there. You can actually rid yourself of those pesky flies and insects without spraying yourself and your pretty flowers with chemical concoctions! All it takes is some creativity while you harness the wisdom of nature.