Archive for the ‘Natural’ Category

Mulching

Mulch is nothing else but a layer of dried weeds, grass, or leaves placed over plant beds.  We use mulching to retain moisture, prevent weed growth, create an environment for beneficials, and as protection from erosion.  Mulching has been most helpful the past few months with the onslaught of rain. Our beds have been protected from erosion that comes from the splashing of raindrops, which would otherwise remove our topsoil.

Mulching is one the easiest and most practical thing you can do for your vegetable or plant bed, or garden.

Gather the weeds, leaves, twigs you have.  You can

also use rice straw, dried napier grass, wood chips or sunflower leaves.  Dry them under the sun.  Place the “mulch” on top of the soil and around the base of your plants.  And that’s all.

Plant bed with mulch

What mulching does:

Conserves the soil’s moisture:  Water is lost through evaporation because of winds.  A good mulch cover prevents a lot of evaporation.

Prevents weed growth: Mulch placed at a depth of at least 2-3 inches prevents weed growth by smothering the weed seeds so that they don’t germinate.

Improves the soil’s aeration:  Mulching prevents crusting from hard rain.  Thus, your plant roots can have continued access to air.  Earthworms also love mulch.  As they feed on the mulch, they create air tunnels.

Provides a home for beneficial insects: Some beneficial insects are able to live under the shade of mulch. Mulch provides a nice home for insects that can help you with pest management.

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.

Now you have something to do with weeds, leaves, twigs and the bark chips in your garden. Nothing should be put to waste. Everything goes back to the soil.

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Peppering as a Method of Pest Control

Another method unique to Biodynamic farming is Peppering.  No, it’s not the use of pepper, but the use of ashes (produced after a method) that is sprinkled over affected areas in the farm like pepper.  Peppering reduces weeds, insects and rodents. Because peppering is quite powerful, we only use it as a last resort.  This is because it completely eradicated something from a treated area, and cannot establish or maintain a healthy balance, especially when what we aim for is a healthy, ecological and interdependent ecosystem.

What is peppering?

Peppering excludes a specific pest from the area you treat by getting the pest, burning it and putting it back to the soil.

How do you make the “pepper?”

Capture the pest and burn it to ash. The ash is then sprinkled like pepper around the perimeter of the affected area. The timing is specific to the type of pest and what planetary influences rule their reproduction:

Ÿ Animals – when the planet Venus is in the constellation of Scorpio.

Ÿ Winged insects – when the Sun is in Gemini, and the Moon is in a water sign.

Ÿ Hard shelled insects – when the Sun is in Taurus and the Moon is in Taurus.

Ÿ Snails and slugs – when the Sun is in Cancer and the Moon is in a water sign.

Ÿ Weed seeds – at full Moon or moon is in Leo.

Some tips:

  1. Collect the pest first.  If you are getting rid of small insects, you might need a lot of small insects.  If you are dealing with weeds, you need the ripe and viable seeds.
  2. Store it in cold temperature (freezer) until the proper burning time.
  3. Put in a tin and burn completely to a grey ash on a very hot fire. Sprinkle the ashes like pepper around the affected area. You can mix the ash with fine sand, wood ash or make into a homeopathic preparation which can be sprayed out.

Some additional tips from other farmers:

  1. Put out on three consecutive days.
  2. Apply at full Moon (associated with fertility).
  3. Avoid times when Mercury is retrograde.
  4. Use all stages of the life cycle of an insect (egg, pupae and adult).
  5. Repeat the application every six months or yearly.

Taken in part from http://backyardbiodynamics.com/

Seed Saving

One critical aspect of biodynamic farming is the practice of saving seeds.  Saving seeds is important for food security.  You save seeds to preserve the varieties that you see cope well with your local climate, are resistant to the pests or diseases in your area, or thrive well in zero-chemical conditions.   You also save seeds because there is a plant you simply love and must have again.

We saved seeds from some of our healthiest plants.  Some of these are: Cilantro, French beans, Arugula, and Basil.  This gives us produce that is grown from very healthy plants that have already adapted to our local climate and environment.  The plants are also less “addicted” to chemicals as they have been grown biodynamically or organically.

Some tips:

  1. The best time to produce seeds is towards December to January when we no longer experience heavy rains.
  2. Avoid hybrids as you cannot produce good seeds from hybrids.  The seeds will be sterile or produce inferior plants.
  3. Choose the best plants, flowers, or vegetables to save seeds from.  Some things you might consider are the variety’s pest resistance, the flavor, the beauty, etc. Some seeds that can be easily produced are lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and beans. Once you have selected a variety, allow those plants to produce seeds.
  4. Our process includes waiting for the plant to bolt. This means we wait until plant begins to flower. And then we wait for the plants to form seed pods.  Once the seed pods are dried, we get the pods and dry the seeds.  The seeds are then stored in cold storage.
  5. Store seeds that are completely dry.  You can store it in Manila paper or a paper envelope. Label it and then place in an air tight container.  Store it in a cool, dark and dry place.
  6. Stored sees are usually used the following year.

Seed saving, especially from plants that have been grown on healthy soil and without chemicals, is a key towards sustainable agriculture.  It’s also a wonderful way of propagating native, heirloom and indigenous plants.

Green Manuring: Using Legumes for your plant beds

We use green manuring to help with our composting.  Green manures allow us to fertilize and add more organic matter to our soil.  Green manuring is a method of putting back into the soil living plants at the peak of their growth.  We do this by using leguminous plants (like mung bean, kadios, peanut and other wild plants) or we also use wild sunflowers. The plants are harvested at their peak or right before they flower, and then the plants are ploughed back into the soil.  This process brings in more nitrogen, organic matter and living plants into the soil.  Legumes for example take in a lot of nitrogen from the air through the bacteria that live in their roots.  Grasses also create green matter, which breaks down into humus.  So what we are doing here is a method of composting on the bed itself.

The limitation of green manuring though is that you are not able to control the quality of humus in the soil.  It also does not necessarily improve the soil’s structure long term.  In fact, the wrong use of green manuring can decrease the soil’s organic content.

How to Green Manure:

  1. Plant your leguminous seeds.  Water until germination occurs.  Then water constantly.
  2. When the plants begin to flower, it is time to turn your legumes or plants into green manure.
  3. Using a hoe or other material, chop, mow or cut the green manure plants at its base. We allow our cuttings to wilt for a few days.
  4. Incorporate it into the soil by digging or by shallow cultivation.  You can dig a trench 4 inches deep, 6 inches long and as wide as the bed size.
  5. The time it will breakdown will vary from 6-8 weeks.

Green manure can be sown almost anytime but the best would be at the start of or the end of the rainy season. This is because you need a lot of water for the green manure to decay properly.  The middle of the rainy season on the other hand is too wet and tilling the soil at this time might destroy your soil structure. We also do green manuring each time we start a new bed, to prepare an unused or exhausted soil for the next planting.

Biodynamic Composting

Here’s something you should remember. 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.  Our flowers and vegetables derive more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost.

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.

If you would like to start your own composting, here are a few tips:

1.  Gather materials that you already have around you.  You can use any animal manure you can find near your area.  It is best to use   fresh animal manure.  If the manure is dried, moisten it first with water and pulverize before using.  Gather and shred the weeds you have or the grasses that are around you.  You can also use rice straw.  Our farm uses shredded fallen leaves, aged manure, chopped up straw and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust.

2.  Identify your compost site and take some time to build a simple composting shed with a roof made of natural materials, or a compost bin.  To make a bin, enclose an area of about 1 square meter.

3. If you can, it would be great to add earthworms.  If you already have some earthworms, just put them in the bed.  If not, just have the compost piles and the earthworms will come once the piles are composted.  See Vermicomposting.

4.  Place a layer of plant materials like leaves, grasses and weeds about 15cm thick.  If your material is courser, make the layer thicker.  If you have materials that tend to compact make the layers thinner.  Next layer is 7cm of animal manure. Then layer with 7 cm of lime or ash (you can do away with this layer.)  Lastly, add a thin layer of topsoil, enough to cover the surface of plant materials.  This is one complete later.

Repeat the layers (plant, ashes, soil) until your pile is 1.5 meters tall.

5.  Biodynamic compost is different from other composts because of the biodynamic preparations or specially prepared weed and herbal materials.   There are 6 preparations used: 502 (yarrow), 503 (chamomile), 503 (stinging nettle), 505 (oak bark), 506 (dandelion), and 507* (valerian.)  The preparations do not add bacteria or fungi but instead stimulate the life energies of pile so indigenous bacteria and fungi will be attracted to the pile and break it down.  These 6 preparations have been included in one preparation called the Prepared 500.  We get ours from Greg Kitma of PhilBio.  Our process is just to sprinkle or spray the prepared 500 over the compost pile.

6.  Keep the compost bed moist all the time. You can do so by watering the area at least twice a day, one in the morning and another before night falls. To retain moisture, you can put shredded cardboard or newspaper on top of the area or heaps of dried leaves.

7.  If you followed the layers, you should have no problem and your compost would be ready after 6-7 weeks. You will know it if your compost pile begins to heat up after 3 days.  Just allow it to continue decomposing until the temperature falls.  There is no need to turn the biodynamic compost or to place air channels.

8.  How do you know it is ready for use?  Your pile would have shrunk to ½ or 1/3 its original size.  You will also not see the original materials and it will have a sweet woody smell.  It would appear like normal soil when it is ready to be used. Just put it around your plants, the way you apply fertilizers. The compost produce should serve as a significant and wise replacement or substitution for chemicals and commercially available fertilizers. In no time, plants will be more productive and healthier than ever.

*You may want to plant some compost plants.  Corn, sorghum, napier and wild sunflower are good compost plants.

Starting your own Kitchen Garden

Food is healthier, tastier and more satisfying when picked from your own farm or grown in your own garden.  You get to eat food at freshest and choose the ones you exactly like too.  Imagine growing some of your vegetables and sharing these with family or friends.  The best reward is the pleasure of knowing they were grown in rich soil without chemicals or pesticides. But since not everyone can have the luxury of having their own little farm, here are some tips on starting your own Edible Garden.

1.  Decide where you want to grow your vegetables. Whether you live in the lowlands or highlands will determine the kind of vegetables you can grow.

2.  Ideally, a kitchen garden would be the best.  It should be close to your kitchen door so it’s easy to just get what you need when you need it.  If you don’t have enough space, you can grow your vegetables or herbs in between gaps in your flower beds or plant them in containers and grow them in bags.  You can even use hanging baskets.

3.  You need a plot that is not a slope so you won’t have a problem of soil erosion.  Find a sunny spot that gets enough sun (8-10 hours of sun a day.)  While it is in open spaces, you also need to make sure it is sheltered enough so it is protected from wind drafts.  You might also want to make sure it’s close to a water source.
4.  Start small and aim to grow more as you get more confidence.   What will your family eat?  How much time do you have to spend in it?  A bed that is 60-90 cm wide with paths of 30 cm is a good size.
5,  Your soil should be fertile, healthy soil.  If you already have healthy plants growing on your soil, it should be good enough.  Dig the soil, get rid of weeds and enrich it with compost before you start planting.  Your soil should have rich organic matter (compost.)  Our best tip is that before you plant, build your soil fertility by applying  Biodynamic Preparation 500 to your soil.  (We make our own but we can help you source them as well, just let us know.)  The preparations bring back balance to the soil and make the soil a rich place for micro organisms.
6.  Make your beds square or rectangular. This allows for easier planting and weeding.   Make sure you can reach the center from either side.  Also make sure your taller plants will not shade your smaller plants.
We suggest you use raised beds. Raised beds are filled with clean topsoil and then compost, and then mulched. The only disadvantage is they drain fast so you would have to water your plants often.
6.  Mulch the vegetable bed. This will improve your soil carbon, soil structure, help you conserve water and reduce the amount of weeding you need.  You do this by placing dried plant material like leaves, clippings, twigs, or barks on top of the soil and around the base of the vegetable plants.

Mulching Materials like Dry Leaves, Bark, Cuttings and Twigs

7.  You can get seeds from a garden store or from friends who have seeds. The seed packets would usually have a description.  Take note of what plants are good for small spaces, disease resistant, have good yields, are tolerant.  But your best resource will always be yourself after you have started planting, and gardening.

8. In the beginning, it would be good to plant several varieties of vegetables. Keep a journal and plan what seeds/plants go where.  Note down what plants were resistant to pests, grew well with minimum organic fertilizer, or other aspects like taste, and storage. Take note of what worked so you know what varieties are best for you.

Lowland Vegetables you can plant (easy to take care of): Malunggay, squash, pechay, papaya, string beans, kangkong, camote tops, okra and leaf type lettuce,

Highland Vegetables you can plant (easy to take care of): cauliflower, mustard, brocolli, salad greens, chinese cabbage, radish, carrot, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and the like.

9. Some vegetables can be bought from a garden center, already started.  For example, you can buy herbs in pots.

10. Practice multiple cropping so you do not exhaust your soil.  Multiple cropping allows for different plants with different needs to use the soil.  Some plants may house beneficial insects, which the other plant needs to control pest.  Multiple cropping also produces higher yields than monoculture.

Some combinations:

Beans grow well with cucumber, early potato, lettuce and carrots.

Carrot grows well with peas, leaf lettuce, and chives. Sage, rosemary, onion and wormwood repel carrot fly.

Cucumbers grow well with corn, lettuce and celery. Radish and tansy repel cucumber beetle.

Lettuce grows well with carrots.

Peas grow well with radish, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, turnips and lettuce.

Potatoes grow well with beans and peas.  You can repel potato bugs by putting a border of malunggay.  Garlic and marigold also helps prevent blight in potatoes.

Tomatoes like basil and parsley. Garlic can combat tomato blight. Fava beans repel tomato wilt causing organisms.

11. Practice crop rotation.  This means that you do not plant the same crop in the same area between two planting cycles. For example, you can start with Chinese Cabbage, Carrots and Baguio Beans. The next planting, rotate where you planted them.  Note that leaf vegetables usually do well after a legume crop.  Fruit vegetables often perform well after a leafy crop. Root vegetables grow well after a fruit crop.

12. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. For in ground crops you might have to water once or twice a week. Raised beds are faster and may require watering every day. Just make sure you don’t water too much so that the soil is lumpy when you hold it.

13. Remove weeds when you have them with a hoe or a fork to lightly stir the top inch of soil.  Mulching is also good.

14. Fertilizing your crops through composting is best. (See How to Make Biodynamic Compost.)  You do this every cropping cycle.  We also hasten the decomposition of our compost by applying Biodynamic Preparation to the compost pit.

Compost Pit

14. Harvest your produce when they are ready.  Leaf lettuce can be picked as young as you like; snip some leaves and it will continue to grow and produce. The general rule: if it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. Give it a try. With some vegetables, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce.

15.  Now, EAT.

The Real Meat of the Matter

I haven’t been eating a lot of red meat for years (well, except for an occasional big fat juicy steak.) With all the articles on fat and heart disease, the inhumane treatment of livestock, and the mammoth carbon footprint of animal feedlots, a supposedly conscious consumer (who wants to keep the fats off) shouldn’t dream of eating so much red meat, right? I mean, red meat=saturated fat=clogged arteries=heart disease right? Still, I had to indulge a few times, especially since I ironically married into a family of farmers and cattle ranchers.

However, early last year, we started hearing about grass-fed beef.  I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I even asked my husband, “Why the need? Don’t all cows eat grass? Surprisingly, he said, “most don’t” and he began his treatise on beef.

Where’s the Beef or Where does your meat really come from

Here’s the rundown:  I will just discuss three of the most common kinds of beef in the Philippines: (1) Local grain-fed; (2) Imported Beef; and (3) Local grass-fed.

The kind of meat we have in the market, the meat we grew up with and have grown to love, and what ends up on our table, has a lot to do with economics or the business of meat.

Local Grain-Fed

Almost all cattle operations in Luzon (except for some dairy and breeding operations) raise cattle for the supermarket trade.  Supermarkets pay a premium for beef and thus farmers who sell to these markets are able to get more money for their meat.

However, supermarkets will only get meat that measures up to a certain weight.  This is so that the supermarkets are able to maximize meat to bone ratio. And, since the supermarkets will only accept this bulky weight, farmers have to make sure that their cows weigh at least 420-500 kilos when they bring them to the market. Now, to get to this weight that supermarkets will buy, the cattle farmers will have to fatten their cows.  If they left the cows on its natural diet of grass and allow them to leisurely graze, they won’t get the required weight in time and so they lose on the sale.

How do farmers make sure they have fat cows in a short time?  They fatten it up with grain and grain by-products.  Cows are kept in feedlots and fattened up with grain.  Since grain is quite expensive in the Philippines, they substitute also with grain by-products such as factory food rejects, brewers’ grain by-products, sweepings, and the like.  How much grass does the cow actually eat?  It varies from farm to farm. The bigger the farm, the more capital it has to supplement with grain.  Smaller farms cannot afford a lot of grain or by-products. On the average, local fattening operations use about 60% food concentrate and 40% grass.  Economics dictate: the bigger and faster, the better chances at the supermarket. Farmers are often forced to implant growth-inducing hormones to make sure the cows are fattened in record time.

Imported

The steak we grew up with and love to eat, that fat juicy one with the white marbling, those come from imported breeds like Angus and Hereford. These are the breeds that are able to put on more fat. The cows are raised in large farms with highly mechanized farming operations.  These cattle operations have a farmer to cattle ratio of 1:100 up to 1:1000 heads.  That means having only one farmer to 1000 cows! The U.S. also heavily subsidizes grain and thus cattle farms are able to get very cheap grain to feed livestock. (They also have to feed during the winter or a drought using grain.) They feed cattle more than 90% grain. Now, since the cows don’t feed based on their natural constitution and on the pace that they should, they easily get sick.  Farmers then have to give them antibiotics.  They are also implanted growth-producing hormones. Not only that (this is exactly where the vegans bellow: animal cruelty!”) they are dehorned so they can be easily handled, and castrated so they gain weight much faster. Also, the calves do not stay in the farms for long.  Farmers send the calves off to feedlots when they are only 6-8 months of age.  They do this so they keep their pasture free for producing more cows.  Note that a large percentage of imported beef comes from dairy operations and dairy operations generally use more supplements like milk replacers and medications for young calves.

Local Grass Fed

Local grass fed beef used to be the beef no one wanted to sell or buy. For the large-scale farmers, it was simply not economical.  For the consumers, there was not enough fat!  But with the increasing consciousness on the benefits of grass fed beef (good fat, high in Omega 3 and CLA, and leaner than skinless chicken), it has since climbed up the ranks and has now won a niche market.

Local grass fed meat comes from very small farms, mostly family farms.  The breeds are of the Indian breed, which are hardy, suited to our tropical climate, and leaner than the temperate breeds.  The farmer to cow ratio is usually 1:1 or 1:2.  Small farms with a few cows don’t need extensive land, fertilizer, pesticides, or heavy equipment. The cows do the work. They are tamed almost like a family pet. This is again, the most practical thing to do.  Tamed animals are easier to handle. The family farms will also not feed it anything but grass.  Feeding it grain is overly impractical, almost absurd.  With the amount of rainfall we get, green grass is readily available all year round. So the cow feeds on grass and lives outdoors, in the pasture. The cow is not dehorned or castrated. There is simply no point in doing so.  Also, they feed on their natural diet of local grass, building up their immune system so there is no need for antibiotics at all. Eighty percent of local grass fed cattle at their market age, will only weigh between 320 to 350 kilos live weight, way down the mark of supermarkets.  The smaller animals get slaughtered in the local wet markets because the cost of transporting them to major markets is too expensive (Cost of shipping a 320 kilo cow is the same as the 500 kilo cow.) The remaining 10% (those with better weight) are sent to a fattening operation in Batangas to be finished on a ration of grass and grain by products.

The healthier, more humane, ethical, and sustainable choice is really local, grass fed beef.  The cows were fed grass as nature intended them to, without medications, and have lived stress-free, happier lives. What you have then is food that is low in fat, and a great source of Omega 3 and the cancer fighting CLA.  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/18/why-do-exvegetarians-outnumber-current-vegetarians-three-to-one.aspx

The challenge however, is in sourcing the meat.  Clearly, you won’t readily find these in the local supermarkets. A wholesaler or butcher might claim he has grass fed beef, but it is difficult to really ascertain where it comes from and how it was raised.  Yellow fat does not always mean the cow was fed 100% grass.  You can feed up to 80% of dry feed and still get yellow fat.  What you need is someone you trust and who knows where to find these small farmers and could buy directly from them. (Now it’s very hard to pretend I’m not boasting or hard-selling here but really, 99% of our grass fed meats come from these small farmers, the other 1% we raise ourselves.)

Meat Comparison

So there you have it, my article about how they beef up your steaks, and where the real beef is.