Archive for the ‘Organic’ Category

Structures for Backyard Gardening

This is a 5th of a series on Backyard Farming.  This article discusses simple structures for your garden and water conservation techniques.

A backyard farm or a kitchen garden will be usually small.  Most of us will have a small yard, a patio or even some space with a window.  Here are some of the structures you can use:

Yards:  Instead of having a lawn, create space for an edible garden.  This means you should have space in your lawn or yard for a bed or two.  Use the borders of your spaces for vegetables too.  We recommend you use raised beds for your farm or garden.  Make sure they are at least 24 inches deep.

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Containers:  You can grow vegetables in containers too.  Just make sure they get enough sun.  Make sure your container is big enough for a full grown plant.  You will also have to always water as containers dry out quickly.  The soil will also have to be fertilized and changed every planting cycle.  In our patio, we grow some of our vegetables in large black bags.

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Small structures:  

While you can already grow vegetables outdoors in raised beds or containers, you can put up small and cheap structures using bamboo, pipes or wood.   Screen houses will protect your plants from insects and from nature: too much rain, wind or sun. You then use mosquito nets for your sides (buy these from general merchandise shops or those that sell fishing gear.)  The rooftop is often made of UV treated hard elastic plastic.  You can buy these from Hobee Packaging Co.

Our farm has built Bamboo Greenhouses. (Read more about our greenhouses.)  Bamboo is treated with borax and boric acid. It is important to sit your post on cement to avoid termites and rust.  We then use thick elastic plastic as a cover.  We use Use U.V. stabilized greenhouse film.  A short term structure can last you from 6 to 8 months.  You can also build long term structures of 2 to 3 years.

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SIMPLE IRRIGATION
As we have consistently stated, you need rich living soil with plenty of organic matter.  The irrigation technique we recommend is TRICKLE IRRIGATION.  This is a system where water drips slowly directly to the roots of plants through pipes (with small holes.)  The mechanism allows the water to drip directly where it’s needed.  You also do not  have runoff or wasted water.  The technique also reduce evaporation, soil erosion and deep drainage.  More importantly, it gets rid of many foliar or root diseases that spread through the water.
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When to irrigate
Irrigate plants closer to the evening so you decrease the loss of water through evaporation (except if you water by sprinkler. If sprinkler, do it in the morning to prevent fungus).  Some other techniques we follow:
When it is a Full moon, there is an increase in the water element. We sow seeds two days before a full moon to take advantage of the water.
When it is a New moon, there is more water in the soil. Two days before a new moon, we do transplanting to take advantage of the soil’s increased water content.
Water conservation techniques
Here are other water conservation techniques we use:
•RAIN HARVESTING AND CANALS
Catch the rain.  You can do so by having rainwater catchments like basins, ponds or canals.  When it rains, the water falls from the rooftops to micro basins or canals, which catch them.  What you can also do is line the canals with thick mulch (4 inches at least) to ensure less evaporation.  It is best to take advantage of slopes in your garden so the rainwater gently seeps towards and is absorbed by your beds.
•NATURAL WINDBREAKS
Plant legumes in between and at the boundary of your beds to act as windbreaks.  The windbreaks again reduce evaporation.
•CONSERVATION TILLAGE
Raised beds get more aeration in its roots so you do not need to till as often and protect topsoil.  Also, a good topsoil won’t be washed out by rain.
•MULCHING
Mulch your beds to conserve on water.  Read more about Mulching.
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Sowing and Transplanting

This is the 4th of a series on Backyard Farming. This article discusses sowing and transplanting.  We will give you tips on how we ensure that are seeds are able to germinate and that plants are able to survive well before they are moved to plant beds.

You have prepared your beds, started to make your soil healthy and put in your compost.  It is now time to sow your seeds or set out your seedlings.

Backyard Farm Nursery

Backyard Farm Nursery

Sowing

Seeds should be allowed to germinate.  Seeds only germinate when they absorb enough water (moisture), light and air. 

When to Sow?

If you want to follow the Biodynamic calendar, the right time to sow is right before the full moon. This is when water (including the water in your ground) rises because of the influence of the moon. This is also the time when seeds will be able to absorb the most water.  Thus, the best time is two days before a full moon.  Note though that when it is the rainy season and you already have too much water, you do not have to follow this process.

Also, as this is just a backyard garden, it might be best to sow seeds every 2 weeks so you have a steady supply of your crops.

How do you sow? 

 

Sowing Process

Waking up Seeds

Sowing your seeds

Sowing your seeds

We recommend that you sow in multi-celled trays.  The procedure we follow is this:

  1. Make a Potting mix:  Mix together 1/3 rich top soil, 1/3 compost and  1/3 river sand;
  • You can use the soil that is silted down from your beds and that goes to your drain canals as topsoil
  • River sand is dark gray and comes from a riverbank, not the sand for construction
  • Put the potting mix in multi-celled trays

2.  Wake up your seeds. Put seeds in damp tissue.  Mist it thoroughly overnight.   Cover for protection and keep in dark to wake up the seeds.

3.  Put seeds in potting mix, which are in the trays. We recommend 2-3 seeds per cell.  As you put the seeds, cover it a little with your potting soil.

4.  As soon as your trays are ready, put them in your nursery or seedling house.

Transplanting

Transplanting is the method where you uproot your seedlings from a seed tray, and then replant them to a new location.  What we do is that a few days after sowing, we prick the seedlings or small plants and first transfer them to small transparent plastic bags.  The plastic bags ( 1.5×3 inches) are big enough to so plants will be able to develop secondary roots in 2 to 3 weeks.

Transplanting

Transplanting

Moving to beds

Moving to beds

When the seedlings/plants are ready to be moved to beds, we transplant them.  We recommend you do so on a cloudy day, especially when there is not much wind.   Transplant late afternoon so it is not too hot and your plants can adjust the whole night before the are exposed to harsh elements during the day. Also, water your beds a day before you plant.

  1. Make plant holes in your bed, big enough for the root ball of your plants but not too deep.  The lowest leaves should be above the topsoil but make sure that it is not too shallow so that the plant bends.  Always try not to disturb the roots.
  2. Firm up your plants by pressing the surrounding soil towards the roots.
  3. Water the bed.
  • The distance between plants should be that the leaves do not overlap those of the next plant when they have grown.

You have sowed and planted, now the real fun begins!

Next article: Building Resilient Structures for your Backyard Farm or Kitchen Garden; Water Conservation

Coming Up:  Integrated Pest Management

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.

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!