Posts Tagged ‘Backyard Farming’

Growing Food not Lawns: A Day of Backyard Farming

This workshop is especially for those interested in starting their own backyard garden, urban kitchen garden or small farm while practicing sustainable, holistic and biodynamic methods. We are combining the wisdom and hands-on expertise of real farmers. For would-be and aspiring farmers, this is a rare and powerful learning opportunity.

During the workshop, you will have the opportunity to:

  • Learn to grow healthy food to eat and also have a backyard “farm-acy” for herbs and medicinal plants
  • Gain a basic understanding of biodynamic growing, permaculture, agro-forestry and sustainable agriculture practices.  In particular, we introduce a method of transforming your backyard into a food forest.
  • Make a compost heap
  • Integrate chickens in your garden and learn how to produce your own eggs
  • Learn practical skills to grow food in your backyard or small farm
  • Plan your garden for the year
  • Learn ways of managing insects, attracting beneficials and controlling disease through organic methods
  • Start to culture and raise earthworms in your home
  • Use vermi-compost for your farm

In collaboration with SLOWFOOD MANILA.

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DATE AND TIME:  The Introductory Backyard Farming Workshop will be held on January 28 Saturday.  The Workshop starts at 9AM with a short break in the morning.  Lunch is from 12:30-1:30.  It ends at 4:30- 5:00.  Some practical work is included. We will discuss building soil and composting, growing your garden and pest control.  You will also see our homestead and how we grow our garden at home. 

Want to know how the day will go? Take a peek: backyardschedule-jan28

VENUE

The workshop will be held at Clubhouse of Hacienda Sta. Elena, Barrio Malitlit, Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

EXIT ETON: Turn left on Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay Road (you will see Paseo de Sta. Rosa on your left.) Go straight until you see Vista Mall on your right.  On your left will be a sign “Sta Elena City.” Make a left into Sta. Elena City (it is before Nuvali). You will pass Fontamara homes, Mesa Homes, Augusta, then you will reach Georgia Club Rotonda. Make right at the Rotonda. It is a long road. You will see walled communities such as Belle Reve on the right. At the end of the road is another Rotonda, make a left. Follow the long road until you see the Hacienda Sta. Elena gate.  Enter the gate and ask for directions to the Clubhouse. 

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Take the bus to Balibago, then take a tricycle ride from Sta. Rosa exit (tricycle terminal) to Sta. Elena City.

MEALS: All meals are included in the workshop fee. Healthy yet scrumptious meals made of local, organic or sustainable ingredients will be served. Please bring your own water bottles, plates and utensils. If you have any food allergies or preferences, please inform us so that we can discuss how your food needs can be met.

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ABOUT THE SPEAKER:

Nicolo Aberasturi is the President of Flower Depot, a flower grower and retailer of organic and bio-dynamic flowers, and the President of DowntoEarth, a grower and supplier of biodynamic vegetables, and pasture-raised meat, pork, dairy, poultry, smoked and cured meats. He is a Trustee of the Organic Producers Trade Association of the Philippines and a member of the Philippine Biodynamics Association.

Nicolo has been in farming for 20 years and began practicing sustainable agriculture in 2004, while applying bio-dynamics in 2007. Today he manages Earth Flora, a vegetable and flower farm in Dahilayan, Bukidnon, using sustainable and humane agricultural practices. In 2011, he returned to his roots in cattle farming and is now working or networking with small family farms, to raise animals in the pasture.

DowntoEarth grows vegetables using bio- dynamics and sustainable practices. It raises livestock sustainably and works with a network of sustainably family farmers and ranchers in Mindanao. All of DowntoEarth’s animals have been raised on pasture. DowntoEarth is dedicated to ensure traditional, all-natural, humane and sustainable methods for growing crops and raising animals for food.

PAYMENT OPTIONS

FEE: P2500 (includes lunch, snack and all course materials.)

P2000 Students/Seniors

Group Discounts are also available.  Scholarships are available.   

Fee includes

• Lecturer, all course materials, healthy and delicious lunch, tea, coffee and water

TO REGISTER: registration-form-jan28

To ensure your place, please send full payment by January 18, 2017.  You can pay via bank deposit or personally at our shop (Makati Curb Holdings,  #7433 Ground Floor, Unit J, Yakal St., San Antonio Village, Makati City.  Alternatively, you can pay us at our DowntoEarth booth in the Salcedo or Legaspi markets on Saturday or Sunday. 

Bank Deposit Details:

Deposit to BPI Account (Arnaiz Ave. branch) Account Name: Earth Flora Inc. Account Number: 9661-0147-65

Checks are accepted. Please issue the check under the name of Earth Flora Inc.

Early registration is advised, as slots are limited. If you have deposited, please scan the deposit slip and email it to info@downtoearth.ph.  Once your payment has been received, confirmation will be sent with a receipt and further details about what to bring.

*Cancellation Policy

If for some reason you cannot make it to the workshop, a fee of P500 will be charged to cover administration costs up to two weeks prior to the commencement of the workshop and the balance will be refunded to you. Within 2 weeks of the workshop commencing however, a 50% cancellation fee will be charged. If for some reason the workshop is cancelled, you will receive at least 2 weeks notice and your full payment will be refunded. 

If you have other questions, please let us know or SMS 0915-8979044.

A Sense of Humus

We just capped a weekend workshop of backyard farming. There we were, mostly urban dwellers raised on store-bought vegetables and Chippy. We were out in the sun for practical work. I had warned them about hats and garden boots but the urban dwellers fancied sneakers or sandals, an umbrella and Rayban sunglasses. We gawked at the farmers with their shovels of earth. They layered the compost pit with dried-up leaves and horse poop like lasagna. A flabby milk-white worm wriggled out of the compost that was supposedly every farmer’s manna from heaven.

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Someone blurts out: “What’s that? Someone replies: “A snake?”

They were probably wondering how on earth they were going to build the same biodynamic compost in their backyard. It entails hours of stirring a pail of water to the infinity sign, months of watching the lasagna turn to mush, and keeping the pit moist until it smells like the earth after a rain. And that’s merely the compost.

A couple tried their hand at breaking and turning soil. “Use your left foot! Not too deep! Not there!” the spectators gave counsel, their arms defiantly folded over the chest. A volunteer protests: “But it looked so easy when you (the farmer) were doing it!”

When you grow up in the city, you tend to have an idealized notion of farming. It’s the man with a cowboy hat and, in our tropical world, wearing slippers. It’s a life of rolling plains, of sowing, of having nature take its course, and of one day harvesting a row of lettuce heads and rosemary. It is pastoral and slow paced. You read a book with a cup of coffee until your seeds germinate and the flowers wake up.

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Now you have a weekend of theory and an hour or so under the sun and you see it is neither pastoral nor slow. You’re not just reading a book with coffee, you’re trying to grasp every plant and why peppers won’t thrive where you live. You’re sensing the woolly bug and keeping up with his life story. Farming is abuzz and fierce. You have a trillion things thriving, multiplying and dying: bacteria and microbes, bugs and earthworms, aphids and leaf miners, and in the midst all these- a tiny sprout that’s trying to break free. And then intensify that with the mighty elements, the phases of the moon, the unrelenting rain, and humus that you need to keep alive.

You now understand why some farmers will snap up a magic pill. It gives them twice or thrice the yield with a flick of the wrist. They wouldn’t have to dig pits and layer it up to their waists. There’s no getting down on their knees to cover beds with mulch, or to line it with canals. They don’t have to wait for ladybugs to visit and eat aphids. They don’t have to lose sleep over holes or black spots, as they can pellet disease with pesticide spray. They don’t have to agonize over what to plant, where, or when. There’s no brewing of manure, worm castings or fish waste for tea compost. And without fail, they get shiny and plump vegetables that look (and taste) like plastic every time. IMG_5598

(Except that a year hence, the patch of ground that bequeathed the bumper crop is half-dead and needs a cocktail of chemicals to keep alive. And the bugs have borne bugs resistant to poison, which are back with a vengeance. The farm goes bald losing precious topsoil. The water is tainted. And, as the beds lose its hold on water and minerals, all manner of life- the microbes, the worm, the bugs, the birds, the bees, take exodus. The handful of dirt is no longer teeming with life. It’s just a handful of dirt.)

And so you begin to appreciate the drudgery and toil of growing food, and doing it without magical formulas and cure-all sprays. You catch sight of farming, and how, from compost to a first crop, it is a way of life. The devoted farmer is far more than a man with a cowboy hat. Farming seeks out those who delight in humus, the smell of dung or rotten peels, and invisible things that may one day poke their heads from down below. It seeks out those who can be intimate with the intangible, with the forces that sprout seeds and make flowers bloom. The select few who get down on their knees digging, weeding, picking grubs, praying for sun and fearing too much rain. The handful that choose backbreaking labor over a magic pill, just so they can keep the earth alive. Especially, you see how all these hours end at the farm gate dependent on a market that does not fully appreciate working with the land. On a market that insists on temperate crops in a tropical country. On consumers who pressure farmers to grow the most difficult vegetable, and then frown at its commensurate variable in price.

I do not know much about the work at our farm. I often just behold the fruits of the harvest, in crates, each tomato wrapped in banana leaves. Except that a weekend of backyard farming has given me a glimpse of how the crate gets to my farm store, and the toil needed so I could earn a living from working with the land.

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I see you now. And this girl who grew up buying vegetables at the supermarket will now pause and give grace before every meal. Especially because you opted for backbreaking labor over a magic pill, and still managed to keep your sense of humus.

Backyard Farming Workshop

Backyard Farming Workshop

Backyard Farming Workshop

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.

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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