Posts Tagged ‘Composting’

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.
Advertisements

Summer and Worms

It’s summer and the kids get to visit the flower farm a lot again.

Ainara and Domeka

They got to say hello to their three rabbits, Cottontail, Quincy and Sarah. Ainara wanted to make sure I knew that the Brown one was Sarah and that she was female.  We said hello to the cows too. We call them our Mulchers. Our farm manager calls them Piolo and Rustom. How that got by me without me making a big fuss, I still don’t know.  But Piolo, Rustom and a couple other actor-bulls have an essential role to play in our farm. They do our composting and mulching just by being there, eating and sleeping in their grass beds. Talk about luck.

Piolo the Mulcher

Cottontail

I got to see the farm bloom before my eyes again.There’s a lot of life going on in the farm.  I kept seeing those little white wisps from puff balls I used to call fairy dust.  Ainara again kept saying, with great conviction, and as it it were the most ordinary thing in the world, that the fairies were always sprinkling their happy dust in the farm.

Fairy Dust

My girls are quite lucky to have an entire flower farm to run around in. I had a small yard with daisies and gumamela. They have thousands of every color!  So there I was and while trudging along my girls, I discovered our earthworms. We have tons of them.  And they had a lot to do too, more than the cows and the rabbits (along with the birds that take care of our pests.) So I asked my husband and Toto, our native farm manager about the creepy crawlies.

Our flowers they said derives more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost and from the vermicast produced by earthworms.  And would you believe, our earthworms are quite special. They are BLUE! In 1991, an American scientist Lawrence Heaney discovered 18 new species of earthworms in the Kitanglad ranges including the “blue earthworm ” that can only be found in the Philippines. They have played an essential role in maintaining the ecosystem of the Kitanglad ranges for ages. Among their many benefits, these earthworms help cultivate the soil and also serve as food for local mammals living around Mt. Kitanglad. 

Earthworms on their Bed

Our earthworms are carefully bred and multiplied on flower beds. The bed is made of flower waste, shredded leaves, aged manure, chopped up stems and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust. These materials found as waste around the farm provides nutrients and nourishment needed by worms. We always use organic or biodegradable materials, as all things in the system must naturally and easily decompose. This in turn, encourages and promotes the growth and multiplication of earthworms. Do note that earthworms are very sensitive and any harmful chemical can easily harm and kill them. The earthworm’s body is covered with Chemoreceptors (Chemoreceptors are tiny sense organs which detect chemicals in the soil.  These organs are responsible for how the earthworms taste their surroundings.) Because of this symbiotic relationship, the farm ensures that the soil is substantially chemical free, which in turn, ensures that we have beneficial earthworms that provide nutrients. Eventually, what we have is rich compost, a very healthy soil and happy creepy crawlies that can’t help but multiply.

If you want to do your own outdoor vermicomposting, here are some tips:

1.  Prepare the bedding appropriately. Just put shredded fallen leaves, aged manure, chopped up straw and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust.
2.  Add the 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.
3.  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.

4.  You compost would be ready after a few weeks. How do you use it? 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.

If only there were trees, plants and good soil

Despite years and years of study, I realized I am as ignorant about nature as a seven year old.    Years spent memorizing mathematical precision and the science of the heavens, and yet I know very little about what causes a flood.  Why they never taught me about nature’s wondrous cycles and interconnection, I still do not know. Thirty years and a post graduate degree, and finally, I learned what it takes for a city to be submerged in water and mud.

Picture this image:  When it rains, the water that pours is drank by the soil, trees and plants.  The excess water, called a runoff, runs away to water channels like rivers and streams.  A flood occurs when two things happen: (1) our soil, trees, and plants cannot drink all the water; (2) and this excess water that runs off, cannot be carried by our water channels (or in modern times, also held by our water reservoirs.) The water then runs to our lands.

The Great Flood in Metro Manila was thus the result of intense rains that poured a huge chunk of water, which (1) cannot be drank in one big gulp by our teeny weeny trees, puny little plants, and inexistent soil; and (2) the excess water had no river or stream to carry them.  In fact, our rivers and coasts had overflowed, and our dams had to run off its excess water too.

I wish I could keep writing about the city’s lack of trees and plants, but this is our Flower Farm blog and so I will write about an equal champion against floods, the soil.    Throughout history, we have created floods as a direct result of soil erosion.  Soil erosion is a natural occurrence.  As long as there are rains and winds, the soil will be carried off in pieces.  But, nature is wise and never wasteful.  What the soil losses through erosion is always balanced by new soil.  If you look at virgin land masses, you will always see how nature forms a mantle of vegetation to protect the soil.  When rain falls on this protective mantle of grass or fallen leaves, some of the water’s moisture can still evaporate before it reaches the ground.  Nature also has a troop of trees, grasses and roots that help to hold the soil in place even amidst the slaughter of rain and wind.

Calla Lily Buffers!

Calla Lily Buffers!

How do we learn from nature’s subtle but nurturing ways?  I see now that when we engage in commercial farming without regard to the soil’s natural processes, we partially or wholly destroy nature’s protective canopy.  Intense cultivation digs up vegetative covers of the soil, removing the soil’s umbrella from too much rain.  When we dig up trees, grasses and roots that surround our farm, to give way to our crops, we shoo away nature’s defenses.  Our farm has a lot to learn but we have started some methods that simulate the marvelous processes of nature.  One way to hold back flood is to restore the vegetation in our soil.  We do this through crop rotation, cover cropping, and using bulky organic manure. We cover our crop beds with the leaves of legumes. To prevent the water from running off, we plant nitrogen-fixing legumes and calla lilies beside the water canals in between our greenhouses.  These legumes and lilies act like buffer zones to slow down run off and trap the soil, so that these are not washed out by the rain. Our canals are dug at critical places on a slope so excess water falls into the canals,  and through the natural contours of the land, the excess water irrigates the plants in the beds.  These are some of the methods we use and everyday nature readily gives us a clue.  I admit I am quite a beginner in understanding the mind-boggling ways of nature.  But I am a willing learner.  Because who else would teach me about something so simple, and yet so grand?

Get your Hands Dirty

The soil is teeming with life. In a handful of dirt, you will find earthworms, centipedes, beetles, millions of fungi and bacteria, air and water. We truly know that good soil makes bigger and stronger plants. Most of the plant’s nourishment comes from the soil. When they have ample and the right amount of minerals and nutrients from the soil, plants are able to defend themselves from pests and diseases. This is because organic matter feeds the bacteria and fungi in the soil. The bacteria and fungi, in turn, break down the compost into compounds, and minerals, to small portions so the plants can absorb them. Thus, the more minerals and nutrients in the soil, the more the plant can take up. 

However, improper farming practices have taken a toll on our planet’s soil. We only have thirty percent (30%) of farmable soil left in our planet. Thirty! Our soil is rapidly being depleted. Not only this, nature takes approximately five hundred (500) years to build one inch of top soil and a good crop yield takes an average of six inches of good top soil. How do we destroy our important resource? We lose or contaminate the soil by erosion, pollution, and through the voluminous use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. For example, in conventional farming, pests and disease are controlled with pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals kill the bacteria and fungi, which reduces the mineral content of the soil dramatically. To counteract this, they use a chemical fertilizer that contains only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – NPK. Plants can grow with these limited available minerals but they are less nutritious and far more susceptible to disease. It becomes a vicious cycle of more pesticides and more chemical fertilizers to sustain life. This method is especially absurd when you realize that the same effect can occur naturally on its own and provide us with a healthier outcome.

We need to recognize the fundamental role of soil in life and know that it is crucial that we maintain and develop our soil’s fertility. How do we respect the soil? Natural farming methods such as organic farming and biodynamic, when practiced sustainably, nourishes the soil more than it destroys it. Some of the methods we use at the farm for soil fertility are: (1) adding more nutrients to the soil through manure, compost and green waste; (2) suppressing the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides; (3) composting through organic material; (4) using seaweed and fermented fish waste as foliar spray; (5) using legumes as cover crops. Cover crops protect the soil from wind, water and nutrient loss; and (5) crop rotation because different crops put in or take out different nutrients.

Pesky Potions: Getting Rid of Pests the Natural Way

I recently wrote about the voluminous use of pesticides in plants and flowers. We also loathe pests and insects. Through the years, we have learned a few tricks to get rid of pests the natural way.

Healthy plants and healthy soil: One of the easiest ways to control pests in the farm is to prevent them from coming in! We have learned that healthy plants have healthy defenses. Just like us, when we are weak, we are more prone to sickness. Weak plants are either already infected, or will attract even more predators. What we do in the farm is pull out or dispose of weak plants. Do note that your most important defense is to have a healthy soil. Healthy soils grow strong and vibrant plants. We keep our soils in tip-top shape by natural composting methods such as mulching and using compost or natural fertilizer to the soil.

Healthy vibrant chrysanthemums

In fact, a new study from Washington State University suggests organic growing techniques offer better pest control and larger plants (published in the respected journal Nature.)

“Organic agriculture promotes more balanced communities of predators,” says David Crowder, author of the new study. […]”Our study does not tell farmers they should shift to organic agriculture. What our study suggests is that organic agriculture is promoting these more balanced natural enemy communities and they may have better, organic pest control.”

According to Nature: it is “the relative abundance of different species” rather than the number of species present on a farm that may determine success.  The study found that the increased evenness of organic farms compared with that of conventional farms led to 18% lower pest densities and 35% larger plants.

Here are some of the ways we get rid of our pests through organic farming, and get larger plants because of it:

Minimize insect habitats: Make sure that you do not have breeding places in your area for insects. In our farm, we regularly clean our greenhouses, making sure they are free from debris and weeds, which are breeding places for insects.

Keep the leaves dry: Insects and fungus thrive on wet leaves. Wet leaves also spread disease. In our farm, we use drip irrigation methods to water our plants. Drip irrigation delivers the water to the plant’s roots without wetting the leaves. How is this done? Tiny holes are inserted at various points in a hose, allowing small quantities of water to trickle slowly into the soil over long periods of time. Another advantage of this method is saving water. Unlike sprinkler systems, we use 30-50% less water, applying these directly to the area where the plants need it the most. Drip irrigation also prevents soil erosion and nutrient run-off.

Take advantage of beneficial insects: There are actually some insects or pests that are good for the farm or your garden. For example, LADYBUGS eat aphids, mites, whiteflies and scale (the worst pests for flowers.) That is why we just love ladybugs and take care of these insects in the farm.

Ladybugs are Welcome!

Make your own homemade pesticide barriers or sprays:

Flypaper: Do you know that ANY heavy paper or cardboard, painted with yellow and coated with anything sticky can be an effective flypaper? In our farm, we use recycled hard plastic containers, paint these yellow and then put sticky substances on them. We just hang these in our greenhouses and catch pesky aphids and whiteflies!

Do-it-yourself Sticky Traps

Neem Extract: We use a lot of Neem in the farm. Neem has remarkable powers for controlling insects. Its extract is used as a safe and natural pesticide. It is so unique because Neem does not immediately kill the insect. Instead, it alters an insect’s behavior or life processes in ways that can be extremely subtle. Eventually, however, the insect can no longer feed or breed or metamorphose, and cannot cause damage. Because of this subtle method, our crops, people, and animals are protected.

Fish Emulsion: We have replaced chemical pesticides with mixes of our fish emulsion. What is it? Fish waste, yes you read it right, foul and messy fish entrails! We gather all fish scraps from the markets, grind them, and mix them with an enzyme. We screen out the bones and decant the oil, and what remains is fish silage. Also, enzymes already in the ground fish continued to digest and break down to amino acids. More than a pesticide, it doubles as a great fertilizer. Fish emulsions are wonderful sources of nutrients!

So there. You can actually rid yourself of those pesky flies and insects without spraying yourself and your pretty flowers with chemical concoctions! All it takes is some creativity while you harness the wisdom of nature.