Archive for the ‘Natural’ Category

Growing your Garden: Compost, Fish Emulsion; and Mulch

This is the 3rd of a series on Backyard Farming.  This article will discuss how you can grow your garden.  We offer you tips on composting and using fermented fish waste, and also Mulching.

Remember that you need healthy soil.  You don’t feed the plants. You feed the soil.  Thus, the key to having vibrant plants would be to have fertile soil.  And feeding the soil means that you enrich it with organic matter or compost.  In the farm we do this by: (1) Composting; (2) using Fermented Fish Waste; (3) Applying Biodynamic Preparations; and (4) practicing Mulching.

While preparing your vegetable beds, you will have to dig the soil, get rid of weeds and enrich it with compost before you start planting. In the farm, we apply Biodynamic Preparation 500 to your soil. The preparations bring back balance to the soil and make the soil a rich place for micro organisms.

COMPOSTING

Note that you will have to start composing way before you plant.  Compost will take 2 months to mature. Biodynamic or organic compost can replace any chemical fertilizer. Biodynamic compost especially builds the soil and reduces pest attacks.  Your compost will increase your yield and improve the life of your soil in the long term.  Our flowers and vegetables derive more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost.  To learn how to make biodynamic compost, please read a previous article here:  Biodynamic Composting.

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GREEN MANURE

You can also improve your soil’s fertility and texture by growing legumes, and then cutting them and putting them back into the soil or composting them.  This is called Green Manuring.  These are string beans, baguio beans, monggo or peanuts.  These plants have rhizobium, a microorganism that is able to capture nitrogen from the air and deposit it to the roots. We grow these legumes as raw material for our compost, and also in the beds between cropping seasons to improve our soil fertility.  To learn more about this process, please visit our old article on Green Manuring.

FISH EMULSION

While planning your garden, you should also prepare fermented fish oil. Our farm uses a lot of fish emulsion as natural fertilizer. Fish emulsion has high organic nitrogen. It’s a great soil conditioner and provides bacterial food to feed the soil’s microherd. Fish emulsion is nothing but a concentrate made of saltwater and fish scraps. We spray the fish emulsion to our plant leaves or pour it in the beds.  Here is a link on how to make fish emulsion.

If you want to further enrich your soil with earthworms, here’s a previous article on it: Vermicompost. Earthworms aerate the soil and create worm castings, which contain nutrients, minerals and a lot of beneficial organisms.

After the application of compost  and the application of BD 500 to your soil, we recommend mulching.

MULCHING
Mulch is a layer of dried weeds, grass, or leaves placed over plant beds.  It is best to mulch during rainy months; beds are protected from erosion, which would otherwise remove topsoil.
HOW to MULCH:
  1. Gather the weeds, leaves, twigs you have.
  2. Can also use rice straw, dried napier grass, wood chips or sunflower leaves.
  3. Dry them under the sun.
  4. Grass clippings must be dried and without any seed before application.
  5. Cover the beds with 4 to 6 inches of mulch. Place the “mulch” on top of the soil and around the base of your plants.
•Note that it is best to water your beds in morning to allow the leaves to dry up before night, this will discourage fungus problems in the evening.
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Some benefits of mulching:
•Attracts Earthworms:  Mulch attracts deep soil earthworm that go down as deep as 5 meters to aerate the soil.Earthworms love mulch.  As they feed on the mulch, they create air tunnels.  Earthworms also eat dead plants and can produce up to 10,000 kilos of castings per hectar  in one year.  Earthworms also increase the water holding capacity of sandy soils.
•Conserves the soil’s moisture: Water is lost through evaporation because of wind.   A  good mulch cover prevents a lot of evaporation
•Prevents weed growth:  At a depth of at least 2-3 inches mulch can smoother the weed seeds so that they don’t germinate
•Improves the soil’s aeration:  Mulch prevents crusting from hard rain.  The plant roots can have continued access to air.
•Provides a home for beneficial insects: Some beneficial insects are able to live under mulch
•Prevents soil erosion:  Mulch protects your bed by preventing rain from removing topsoil.
•Insulates the soil
•Adds organic matter to your soil: As the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil.
With composting, fish emulsion, biodynamic preparations and mulching, you will have healthy soil in no time.
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Planning your Backyard Farm: What to Grow

This is the 2nd of a series on Backyard Farming. This article will give you tips on a garden plan, what to grow, crop rotation and multiple cropping.

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What to plant?  What you plant will depend on: (1)  What you need; (2) Where you are; (3) The needs of the plant; and (4) How much time and patience you have.  If you want easy vegetables, here’s an old article:  Easy Vegetables to Grow in the Tropics.  Remember that there are crops that you can plant in the lowlands, and crops that will only grow in lower temperature or in the highlands.

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CROP ROTATION

We practice crop rotation in our farm and in our kitchen garden.  This means you plant different kinds of vegetable in your garden bed every cropping season.  Why? Crop rotation will prevent pests and diseases from building up in your soil.  If you keep planing one kind of vegetable in the same bed every time, you will be attracting the pests and diseases that are common to that plant.  These pests and diseases will then keep building up on your soil.  However, if you rotate your crops, you will have a different set of vegetables that do not interest the pests/diseases from the last crop.

Another reason for crop rotation is that different crops have different demands on the soil.  For example, salad greens, tomatoes or eggplants are heavy feeders.  Carrots and root crops are light feeders. Planting legumes will add nitrogen to your soil. A crucial part of biodynamics is the need to allow nature to follow its own pace and not force growth or impede it.  Do not try to force the soil to produce as much as it can just because it can.  Thus, alternate the vegetables you plant to allow the soil some breathing space in between crops.

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Some tips: Follow Give and Take in succession.

  • Cabbage plants are heavy feeders.  They are TAKERS.  Do not plant them on the same plot one after another.  
  • Fruit crops need plenty of compost but very little nitrogen.  They are moderate takers.
  • Root crops and legumes require very little fertilizer. They are GIVERS.  They actually ADD nitrogen to your soil.  In our farm, we use legumes for the nitrogen-fixing qualities. We plant the legumes and then cut them leaving the roots under the mulch.  (Note that one hectare of legumes can fix up to 500 kilos of nitrogen per crop.)
    The roots of legumes also have other micro organisms that destroy pathological bacteria in the soil.
  • Foliage crops need plenty of nitrogen and compost. They are TAKERS.
  • Following biodynamic farming, you should be inter-cropping leafy vegetables with root vegetables and legumes.  

DO NOT:

  • Plant the same veggies in the same bed in succession.
  • Have cabbage crops succeed each other

MULTIPLE CROPPING

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Another practice we follow is multiple cropping.  On the same bed, we plant vegetables that support each other.  Some plants may house beneficial insects, which the other plant needs to control pest.  They ward off each other’s bugs or thrive well together.  You can also use companion planting to make better use of your soil or so you have windbreaks that protect sensitive crops.

Some tips:

  • Marigolds emit a strong fragrance that confuses pests.  You can plant marigolds all over your garden. They are pretty too!
  • The strong aroma of herbs like dill, rosemary or thyme also repels pests and attracts predators (insects that eat pests) and pollinators.

Next article: Growing your Garden: preparing your beds, mulching, sowing, nursery and transplanting.

Planning your Garden

This is Article 1 of the Series on Backyard Farming.  Before you start though, go easy on yourself.  Leave your dread at the garden gate.  We will try to make gardening easy for you.  Enjoy getting dirty!

The first thing you have to do is plan your garden. What this means is that you determine where you will be planting. What will be the layout, orientation and planting areas?

Evaluate the area where you are planning to build a kitchen garden or backyard farm.  Remember that gardens are ECOSYSTEMS!

Some questions to answer:

  • Where are you growing your vegetables? For example, what is the type of soil you have.

Clay-soil may be problematic as it does not drain well.  Dry soil close to the sea should also be avoided (except for certain crops that do well in dry soil such as bananas and papayas.)  The best soil is loamy soil with a good balance of sand, clay and organic matter.  Whatever the soil is, it will always benefit from a lot of compost (Biodynamic Composting.)

  • Do you live in the lowlands or highlands? (A list of lowland and highland vegetables to plant will be discussed in the next article.)
  • How big is your area?

Plan out the space so your planting area is not too far from your compost pit or water source.  Also identify if there is space for a small nursery.

  • Is there a slope?

If your area is slightly sloping, make sure that it is not prone to flooding during the rainy season.  A steep slope will wash top soil right away.    If you have a low lying area where the rainwater collects, consider turning the lowest lying area into a small fishpond or reservoir for water.  When you have to garden in a slope, it will be best to restructure the slope into terraces.

PlanningGarden

THE ESSENTIALS for a KITCHEN GARDEN OR BACKYARD FARM:

  • SUN: Almost all vegetables and fruits will need at least 8-10 hours of sun every day to thrive.  Pick a place that gets enough sun and make sure it is not too close to existing trees.  Trees will place a shadow on your vegetable beds most of the time.
  • WATER: Find a place that will allow you easy access to water. During the summer, you will have to water your plants more so you might want to have it closer to the tap or water source.
  • SOIL:  Good soil will be the most crucial.  Where is your best top soil found?  You will need to build the quality and structure of your soil with good compost and in our case, biodynamic preparations.  One of the most important thing you will have to do is to build healthy living soil.
  • PROTECTION: Make sure that it is protected from wind drafts and too much water.  As we live in a tropical country, we often suffer from strong winds and heavy rain.  These factors should always be considered when planning the garden.  For example, if your area is prone to strong winds, it may be best to have windbreaks.  These are structures that will slow down the wind like hedges, rows of ipil-ipil trees, bamboo fences, or a net.  You can also have bamboo sticks as support for plants.  More on windbreaks and protection from rainfall here.  Find the area where the water runs if it rains and make sure your beds are not there.

Once you have these questions answered, and have the essentials figured out, it is time to plan what vegetables to plant.

Next article: What to Grow.

Related articles: Growing your Garden: Composting and Mulching

Sources: Decades of farming wisdom imparted by experience, Grocery Gardening by Jean Ann Van Krevelen and Growing rich, tasty veggies in harmony with nature by Jef Van Haute

Backyard Farming Series

We will be writing a series of articles on Backyard Farming.  People often comment on how much work farming must be.  But they also want to start their own gardens and have started asking questions.  We have been getting so many queries about how to grow food for small spaces, that we thought we should just share the joys of farming.  The articles will focus on the basics of backyard farming, how to plan your garden, building simple structures, sowing and transplanting, organic pest and disease management, and even harvesting and preserving your produce.

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The Joys of Growing your Own Food

Drop by every week for a new article!  This week, we will begin with: Planning your Garden using Biodynamic and Permaculture Principles. We will cover the basics of where to plant, what vegetables to plant and grow, nourishing your soil and building simple structures for a tropical climate.

Food for Thought

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

African Food Garden

And so began merry.  My otherwise unquenchable appetite finally had its fill.  My senses were filled to the brim with tastes and aroma, and an abundance of color and sound in several languages.   It was so overwhelming I panicked.  I was being handed the entire world in a plate and my plate was too full. But there on my plate was culture and gastronomy in its vivid and authentic state.  “Devour and digest everything slowly”: I told myself. I would be there for days and there was no sense hurrying a “SLOW Food” market. There should be enough time to behold, sniff and savor. And so, my palate savored one country after another, sampling food in its extraordinary diversity, ingesting the pleasures of the planet.  There were figs from Afghanistan, baobabs from Sri Lanka, spiced coffee from Egypt, black salt from Russia, couscous from Palestine, and flower concoctions from Mali.  I had to try the citrus wine from Croatia. And I couldn’t count the number of times I dropped by the Provencal 45 nougat flavors booth. They had stacks of nougat with Inca berries and dark chocolate you can buy by the kilo.  I had never tasted nougat so soft; you could actually sense the kneading that came it.

45 flavors of Nougat

The entire world’s cuisine was there for me to devour. Belarus had wild fruit.  There were dates from Al Jufrah in Libya.  Slovenia had herbs I didn’t know existed. Portugal had some dried flowers and figs while Uruguay asked me to sample their chilies. Then there was Motal, cheese in terracotta, ash and beeswax from Armenia.  By the time I inched my way to Ecuador for coffee, my stomach was about ready to give up.   But I had to try Huehuetenango coffee from Guatemala; it was in the “top 10 things to try” list. That one burned my tongue.  Too bitter and I couldn’t find the promised hint of chocolate. I had to sample two more Joes, one from Costa Rica, another from Nicaragua.  The coffee was too sharp or maybe I wasn’t quite the coffee connoisseur I thought I was. Then there were the salts from Iceland, so queerly and delightfully flat.  I had to sample every bit. Smoked salt would be delightful on the next steak I would grill.  I bought those, and added the white onion salt, that would be delish on my fish.

Flavored salts

We dined on forgotten food and tastes: raw milk cheeses from small dairies.  The stench was awful, the taste divine. There was meat from native animal breeds and the Euskal Txerria pig and my husband doted on the Basque jamon. We even sniffed and sipped wines from grapes long forgotten and rediscovered.  Now my taste buds have been elevated to be partial to the Sangiovese grapes. There were still 1000 wines to experience at the Enoteca and I had a workshop to sip 5 different Lambrusco wines fermented inside the bottle.  If I had to write about all the ales, the birras and the hops I got to try, I won’t be able to end this article.  And let me not start telling you about the chocolates or the cheese. These artisanal products, I had an abundance of.

Artisan cheese from raw milk

So on to the sausages.  There was a pretty girl in a costume from the Slovak Republic and men were lining up to sample, the sausage or the beauty, I don’t know.  I finally got a shot of Cachaca from Peru, the drink my brother-in-law once raved about on a tour to South America. The Peruvian man who insisted I chugged his 40% organic corn liquor and I couldn’t quite understand each other. But the hand signals and the alcohol were easily understood. And I kept drifting back to the Domaine a Lafitte booth. They had Armagnac brandy aged in oak barrels this was one drink I definitely wanted to understand.

Our (Philippine) booth had a culinary offering (courtesy of Margarita, Tricia, and Monica) as well. We had overbooked tables as diners feasted on Adobo, Sinigang, traditional mountain rice, lechon and suman. These and they we’re serenaded hours on end by the ethnic beats and Igorot moves of  Django and Manny.

I am now home with a bounty of dulce de leche liquor and Polish honey wine, the rose, cypress and poppy chocolates, lavender jams, Armagnac brandy, truffle crèmes, salted butter and pistachio pates, spicy pork and flavored salts.  And, I, finally understand humanity’s perennial obsession with food.

Food is immensely rich as it is full of wisdom and pleasure.  Every bite is a history and a story. And each person’s, each country’s, and each region’s identity lies in their food.   Sample a simple dish from Norway and you are somehow linked to the Fjords and its past of salting herring.  Imagine how every wine you sup is a memory of a place, of the seasons and the heat and the cold it had to go through, of an entire landscape, or the exquisite taste of a single vine. And isn’t it fascinating how one can go places, relocate and live in another place, but will always hunger for the tastes of home?

7 continents, 1 table.

Rushing through all the trappings of modern life, we forget how rich and vivid food tastes like.  Everything is fast, often cheap, even easy. But food is so much more than just the food we gobble up.  It can be an entire culture and whatever we chose to consume, spells the life or death of animal breeds, seed varieties, or even a small farm or community.   And now I know why eating should be slow: unhurried in the way one delights in it, and especially in the way it gets to the plate.  It is only when we see the wisdom and rewards of eating will we realize how much is at stake at the plate.  And I say anew, “if more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

And so, have a merry feast!

Sustainable Farming for a Small Farm or a Backyard Workshop Series

A Workshop Series for those who want start growing their own food, take charge of their health, and have fun too!

Why you can still eat meat and save the world

“[I]t is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature … then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.”

— Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

 Well, some people have opted to go vegan. They say the way animals are raised (cows, pigs, chickens, a.k.a. factory farming) is fraught with evil. The animals suffer in cramped spaces, force-fed, dehorned, castrated, and injected with antibiotics, hormones, living in cruelty and deprivation.

But as it often happens, the ones who truly care find a way.  They don’t shake their heads in disgust and look the other way. Instead, they go into the system and change it.

That’s what sustainable meat is. It is supporting a system that raises animals in an ethical and sustainable way. A simple definition: it’s a way of raising animals on open pasture, grazing as nature intended them to be, and without hormones or antibiotics.

For us, there are several reasons why sustainable meat is the answer to the problems posed by eating meat: animal welfare, economics, the environment and your health.

Animal Welfare

Everyone knows how factory farming treats animals: cages, hormones, antibiotics and cheap feed, sometimes even animal by-products and oftentimes GMO.

On the other hand, sustainable meat come from animals raised on pasture.  The animals eat grass and live as they would in the wild.  The Philippines can boast of an even more humane treatment of animals.  For example, DowntoEarth sources its pasture-raised meat from small family sized farms with as few as 1or at the most 4 cows.  Local, small-scale animal farming works on many levels. With a small-scale system, the animals are never confined in small spaces. Why? It is simply not practical for small-scale farmers. They cannot afford it.  Instead, they let the animals stay outside, grazing in the open field. More importantly, animals are treated in a much better way than animals on factory farms. In fact, the animals are treated almost like pets. Animals are not stressed. There’s no need to castrate or dehorn the bulls, for example, because they’re tame. What you get in the end are meat products from animals that have been raised humanely.

Environment

We all know how much havoc factory-farming has caused the environment: greenhouse gases, harmful air and water pollution and destruction of ecosystems.  Aside from the that, factory farming transports its meat over large distances, using valuable fossil fuel and causing further air pollution.

On the other hand, sustainable meat, will do little harm to the environment.

“When raised on properly managed pastures, ruminants [cows] don’t compete with humans for grain-producing acreage; in turn, they supply us with bountiful nutrients and leave the earth better for having walked upon it. On intensively-managed pasture, they have been shown to restore vegetative cover, increase biodiversity, and improve soil fertility, thereby making our fields more resistant to both drought and flood.”  (http://eartheasy.com/blog/2010/07/the-case-for-sustainable-meat/)

Farmers who raise their animals sustainably will often see the entire system as interconnected. They will see the need to make sure that the soils are healthy and that the grasses grow abundantly.  Also, animals are slaughtered in ways that cause minimal environmental harm.  You also don’t have to worry about waste.  The manure acts to fertilize the portion of pasture they leave behind (and again don’t need to use synthetic fertilizers to keep their pastures lush.)  Small-scale farmers also do not have the money for large-scale trucking or transport.  Thus, meat is sold locally.

Support for the small farmer

Sustainable meat will often be from small family-owned farms.  By supporting and buying meat from these small farmers, we help them find marketing and distribution channels for their meat.  Local, grass-fed beef used to be the meat no one wanted to sell or buy. Farmers had to sell it at a very low price.  However, with the increasing consciousness on the benefits of grass-fed beef, it has since climbed up the ranks and has now won a niche market.

Health

If you are still not convinced, think about what you are eating.  You are what you eat.  “Grain-fed, factory-farmed, industrial meat is pumped full of hormones to increase the amount of meat that can be produced from a single animal and antibiotics to counter the unsanitary conditions on factory farms. The animals are fed cheap grain and waste in order to decrease the cost of raising the animal and increase corporate profit margins.”  (http://www.saisriskandarajah.com/happymeat/why.php)  Also, imported meat, even if partly grass-fed will most likely be still grain-fed, simply because grass isn’t as readily available in colder climates. In cold climates, grain feeding becomes economical and practical because in winter there is no grass and hay is more expensive than subsidized grain.  Some countries also get several months of drought because they have dry weather.

 

Again, this is where small-scale local farms in the Philippines have an edge. In the Philippines, not only do we have an abundance of grass, we also have good rainfall patterns all year round.  This makes local grass-fed beef production sustainable and economically viable. Small-scale farms will let their animals roam free, and let their cattle eat grass.  And because the cows were fed grass as nature intended them to and have lived stress-free, happier lives, there is no need for antibiotics. What you have then is food that is low in fat, and a great source of Omega 3 and the cancer fighting CLA.

Some Sources:

www.examiner.com/article/sustainable-food-101-what-is-sustainable-meat
www.eatwellguide.com
www.sustainabletable.com
www.eatwild.com
http://grist.org/sustainable-farming/farmer-responds-to-the-new-york-times-re-sustainable-meat/