Archive for the ‘Natural’ Category

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.

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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/

Pig Heaven: What Makes Free Range Pigs Different

More and more people are loving our free range pork.  The favorites? Pastured Smoked Bacon and Canadian Bacon, even our Smoked Farmer’s Ham.  What makes our pastured pork products different?

Pigs living on pasture

FEED: GREENS, COCONUT MEAT, WHEY

Our pigs live out their entire lives on pasture!  Look at their 5-star pig pens! Our pigs are never crowded in small dark pens.  They have access all day to vegetation and a lot of fresh air and sunshine.  They even have their own mud pools!  The pigs live happy healthy lives. Aside from what they eat out in the pasture, we give them cassava, copra cake, chopped greens and coconut meat.  We do not feed them corn or soybean.  We make the feed ourselves so we know exactly what the pigs eat! The pigs have NOT been fed animal by-products, given growth hormones or therapeutic antibiotic treatment. They have not been fed genetically modified corn or soybean.

PROBIOTICS

Our pigs get a daily dose of raw whey.  This gives them a daily dose of probiotics, making them healthier and less prone to disease.

DURATION

Commercial pigs are raised to a size that’s good for the market, in barely 4 months.  This is because of the heavy feeding of commercial feed, and because the pigs are kept in small pens, unable to move.  Naturally-bred pigs or natural pork are from swine that are raised also in just 5 months. While they have more space to move and fed chopped greens, they are still fed corn and soybean.  This makes it possible for natural growers to raise their pigs to a marketable size in barely 5 months.

DowntoEarth pigs take at least 10 months to grow!  This is because of the feed we give them and because they are always outdoors.  The duration is similar to the Iberian pigs in Europe, which are fed a lot of acorn (in our case, we feed them coconut meat).  We follow slow food principles, and thus our pigs take so much longer to raise to a good size.

THE END RESULT

Rolling in the muddy outdoors

Raising pigs on pasture adds real nutrients and flavor to the meat. A pig is by nature, born to root, dig, and run in pasture.  And because they are able to live as nature intended them to, their quality of life is tops, and the quality of the meat is improved.

Our pork is darker in color with good marbling. A darker color in pork means the meat has a higher pH score.  A higher pH score relates to low cooking loss, better water holding capacity, loin firmness, less drip loss, improved processing quality and a richer flavor.

Our version of Pig Heaven is definitely heavenly! DowntoEarth just does not raise pigs, we raise happy and healthy pigs.

Check out our Pasture-raised pork products.

Pasture-raised v. Free-range Chickens

We have been receiving a lot of inquiries about “the difference between native, pasture-raised chickens and free-range chickens.”  Are “pasture-raised” the same as “free-range?”

NO they are not.  Here’s why.

Free range– The USDA free-range label (which we assume most Philippine brands also follow) requires that poultry be “allowed access to the outside.”

However, the USDA does not require the hens to be actually going outside (only access is required), nor does it define what outside is.  They also do not have any requirement on the size or type of the outdoor space.  “Free range” can actually include a chicken coop with a small door that leads to just a small outdoor pen, or a patch of dirt or concrete (even without grass.) In fact, Michael Pollan, in Omnivore’s Dilemma, describes a free-range CAFO as thousands of birds packed into windowless, military barrack like buildings with one or two small doors to a 10×10 outdoor pen. He also doubted any of the chickens actually ventured out for fear of the unknown.   The hens may spend their lives inside the pens, not have enough sunlight or breath natural air.

Additionally, free-range poultry are usually fed grains, which are not the natural food of hens/chickens. Hens/chickens are omnivores, and naturally eat seeds, insects, and grubs. They can also consume small lizards, mice, and frogs.

Healthy eggs and meat come from poultry that were able to eat green plants, seeds and bugs, and exposed to sunlight.

Thus, if you buy “free-range” make sure your farmer or supplier does it the true “pastured” free range way.  That is, the hens/chickens have actual time outside eating grass and grubs, and exposed to sunlight and fresh air. The best ones we have found are those hens that are housed in mobile structures so you can move the houses around and give the hens constant and easy access to vegetable and bugs. 

Pasture-raised-

Pasture raised poultry mean the hens/chickens actually stay outside.  They are able to eat bugs and vegetation.  These hens/chickens eat seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.  The chickens and eggs laid tend to be more nutritious because these chickens have exposure to sunlight, which their bodies convert to Vitamin D, and pass it on to their eggs. Eggs from pastured-hens have three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement.

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx

Native and Pasture-raised

DowntoEarth poultry and eggs are native and pasture-raised.  The reason why we choose native chicken and eggs is because the native breed cannot be confined.  By nature, they cannot be placed inside cages as they are wild animals.  They also cannot be kept together in enclosed quarters, as they fight other chickens/hens and have a tendency to fly.  These chickens/hens have to be placed outdoors, given full access to vegetable and grubs, and be under sunshine.  We have made several comparisons of native v. free-range v. commercial eggs and have seen a big difference in taste, color and consistency.

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Photo from: http://forums.mukamo.com/health-fitness/18523-eggs-cage-free-free-range-pastured.html