Posts Tagged ‘Organic Flowers’

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.

Our flowers drink milk

Ainara watching the Cow giving us milk

There’s never an end to the wonderful discoveries we make everyday. Got fungus? Or powdery mildew? Get milk. We’ve just recently discovered that milk is a Fungicide! It’s as effective (maybe even more effective) as standard chemical brands. How to do it? Get milk, mix with water (our solution is 1 part milk: 10 parts water) and spray twice a week.  You can do trial and error and see how milky you want your solution to be and how often you need to spray. We use fresh milk as we have milking cows in the farm. You can use skim or whole milk though, even reconstituted powdered milk. They say it is the phosphate in milk that boosts a plant’s immune system and fights the fungi. The first scientist to discover this was Wagner Bettiol, a Brazilian. Milk was found to be effective at controlling fungus and also acted as a foliar fertilizer, boosting the plant’s immune system.  We have saved thousands this year by just spraying our crops with milk instead of using synthetic chemicals and fungicides. Who would have thought we would find the solution to our fungicide problems right in our backyard? Or in your fridge?

Organic Flowers: Why Should you Care

Conventional agriculture uses chemical inputs and machinery.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are energy-intensive.

That is the rough equivalent of the emissions of 88 million passenger cars each year.

That is more than the total number of cars in India, China, Australia, Canada and Mexico.

=If everyone converted 10% of their diet to organic, we could capture an additional 6.5 billion pounds of carbon in soil.

=That is equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road each year.

In a Nutshell

DO THE MATH.

Better Soil, Better Earth

It is alarming how in a few weeks, Metro Manila and most of our Northern provinces were inundated. The storms have struck us in places that matter: our homes, our loved ones, and our means of livelihood. Farms everywhere are taking a brunt of the disaster. And people are only realizing now how essential agriculture is to our way of life. When roads to Baguio became impassable, our vegetables and fruits could not get to us. Restaurants, groceries and markets were at a loss, they had too little supply, and thus could not feed everyone’s need. Green beans soared to 300% more its normal price. And that’s just a small bean! A few days more of the city being cut off from us and we would have suffered an onslaught of high prices in basic commodities. It was the same scenario in our flower shop, where I saw florists, restaurants and wholesalers, panic buying, because flowers from Baguio did not come.

We rarely give our food sources a thought. Farming is not given its due honor, as really, the source of what is basic to us: food. We are assured that food will be at the markets and grocery stores, and prices will stay the same because food is not scarce, and vegetables and fruits will always be grown, harvested, and delivered to us. Except now we have a direct experience of how it is when we are cut off from our food sources. We are to experience more and more of it as a great number of farms were damaged by the storms and lost their food production for the next few months.
And now, climate change and its devastating effects are looming on the horizon. What happens if we keep having extreme rain, prolonged droughts, unusually strong winds, and our farms are unable to keep up with our food needs?

Climate Change and Organic Farming
bamboo
Our way of life has made it quite impossible for keeping climate change at bay. “Three hundred fifty parts per million (350 ppm) is the recommended safe threshold for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Today, at 386 ppm, we’re over the limit.” That is why we saw the flooding in Metro Manila, a city that we never thought would be submerged. And that is why, storm after storm came, ravishing our farms and mountains too. “To avoid further expensive climate chaos we must deploy the most creative and innovative technology in the world to rapidly pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And [sustainable, organic, biodynamic,] regenerative farming is it.”

There is hope in climate-friendly farming. We need agriculture to pull off more carbon out of our atmosphere. “Organic farming could pull forty percent of global greenhouse emissions our of the atmosphere each year.” Picture that. And that’s a whole chunk of help. “Farmers who are building soil organic carbon can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at rates of 2 tons of CO2 per acre.” When we practice sustainable, organic or biodynamic agriculture, we nurture our soils with creative techniques such as crop rotations, cover cropping, organic fertilizers, and mimic nature’s innovative but gentle methods. Compare this to conventional farming where chemical companies burn fossil fuels to produce synthetic fertilizers, which are flown all over.

Real farmers build real soils. Real soils hold more carbon and hold more water. Real soils perform better in very dry or very wet weather. With good soil, we build a better earth, resilient to the very uncertain climate that awaits us. And that means more healthy food for our growing world.

Inspired and taken in part from Organic Farming Could Stop Global Climate Change

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.

Something Fishy Lurking in our Soil

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. You read it right, the soil eats. We always see the soil as living. (Sometimes I feel sad thinking about how advanced we are in science, knowing a lot about outer space, worlds outside our own, but we know very little about our own soil. There are so many microorganisms in the soil, thousands of them, still unnamed by science.) Fish oils also give a substantial supply of beneficial soil fungi. The fish bones also supply extra calcium.

How do we make the Fish Emulsion?We use fresh fish scraps from the nearby market, using the juices, sauces or oils that come with these. The liquid is used to breed beneficial microbes and supply extra proteins to the emulsion. We also use fresh seaweed, which has a lot of nitrogen. These parts are composted in a bucket with other brown matter such as sawdust and leaves. We also add molasses to the mixture build up microbes, and speed up decomposition. The brown matter molasses controls the odor and absorbs organic nitrogen from the fish. The bucket is stirred daily to get air into the mixture. Remember air allows for better decomposition and better aerobic microbial growth. The bucket of fish is then made to rot for at least one week.

When all this is over, we dilute our fish emulsion at a 1:1 to 1:5 ratio. The fish emulsion is then used to spray on leaves and drench the soil. Whenever we spray the leaves, we let in small portions of nutrients into the plant through its leaves. Whenever we drench the soil with fish, we build up the soil’s microbial activities, supplying lots of nitrogen to the roots and topsoil. What more, using fish emulsion as our foliar spray helps us get rid of pests too. They hate the fishy smell, no matter how miniscule. We poke holes in the soil to get more oxygen in the soil too, and further increase organic matter decomposition, while increasing the activities of microbes in the soil. Our soils love their daily dose of fish meal. The earthworms too!

Don’t forget that you can actually make your own homemade version of our fish emulsion for your house plants or garden. The resulting mix is as unique as every flower farm or every garden.