Archive for the ‘The Farm’ Category

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.

Image

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.
Image
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.

Image

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.

Image

Image

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.

Image

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

Image

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.

Image

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.

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.