April 2016

more mature fruits under passively aerated tea, but n=1

more mature fruits under passively aerated tea, n=1

blueberries under actively aerated tea with fish emulsion and kelp, n=1

blueberries under actively aerated tea with fish emulsion and kelp, n=1

Our compost tea had no effect on bagrada bug, so our plan is to get rid of all the brassicas. We had also tried our compost teas on cucumber seedlings, and it appears that JD’s application is flourishing the best. On the blueberries, the set under my passively aerated tea application showed a boost in fruiting & maturity. The addition of fish meal and kelp probably assisted in boosting plant growth, so it would be interesting to try using those additives in a passively aerated system.

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Farm Update

Hello CSA members!

Greetings from the land of carrots and kale! Another week passes by on the farm and we continue to be amazed and inspired by our little farm. Our staff and interns were totally stunned today by the gorgeous displays of wildflowers blooming in our habitat hedges. Up until now we mostly had California Poppies and Lupines blooming, but this week several more flowers from the mix started to bloom, including opium poppies which have really lit the whole mix up. The last few weeks we have been furiously planting out our summer vegetables (you’ll be tasting for first zucchinis this week!), and are excited for a delicious summer bounty. We have also been happy to celebrate the birthdays of several farm members, including Manju and Compost Queen Lynn. What a wonderful month to have a birthday, surrounded by beautiful flowers, delicious food, and wonderful people. Until next time!

Farmer Rishi
Founder/Director, The Growing Club

Photos of the Week

Beautiful carrots being prepped and washed for CSA boxes

Beautiful carrots being prepped and washed for CSA boxes

Wildflower habitat hedge bursting with color between our fields.

Wildflower habitat hedge bursting with color between our fields.

Manju preps Kekkyu Tekana for CSA boxes.

Manju preps Kekkyu Tekana for CSA boxes.

This week’s CSA Box

(Please click each item below for a larger photo, description, and preparation instructions.)

NOTE: We are trying to get around to update vegetables descriptions. In the mean time, for items without a provided description, feel free to Google uses and recipes.

Vegetables:
– 1 bunch carrots
– 1 head broccoli
– 1 lb zucchini “Costata di Romanesco”

Green Vegetables:
– 1 bunch pak choi
– 1 bunch swiss chard*
– 1 head Skyphos lettuce*
– 1 bunch Chinese Mustard “Kekkyu Takana”
– 1 bag arugula

Herbs:
– 1 bunch garlic chives
– 1 bunch mint*

Fruit:
– 1 box strawberry guava (please return box)**
– 1 box loquats*
– oranges

*LARGE VEGGIE BOX ONLY
**SMALL VEGGIE BOX ONLY

Storage Instructions

Leafy Vegetables
In case your greens are wilted by the time you pickup your box, please follow these instructions:

– Fill a small bowl or tub with 1 inch of water
– Cut a 1/2 inch of the bottoms of the stems of your leafy greens
– Place greens, with stems down, into the bowl of water
– Leave the greens in the bowl overnight and by morning they should be rehydrated

Wrap your rehydrated greens in a towel and store the in the fridge. Summer greens like water spinach, moringa, and yam leaves don’t last long either way, so eat those as soon as you can.

Herbs
The best way to store your herbs so that they keep longer is to cut the stems a little and place them in a glass filled with about an inch of water. Cover the leaves loosely with a bag and keep them in the refrigerator. Replace the water inside when it gets cloudy. This works great with basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, and many other herbs.

Please feel free to share your recipes with us and also any storing tips you may have. 🙂

On Wednesdays after our weekly harvest, we hold our class sessions in which we discuss topics on anything and everything having to do with farming/ecology. This aspect of the farmer in training program is invaluable in that we discuss in depth, processes and concepts that are seemingly obvious, but that I suspect are all too often overlooked by many plant enthusiasts. During these class sessions we take notes, so we can implement our new found knowledge in our own homes, and for general reference to reinforce and share new lessons. I’ve heard that the most underutilized tool in the garden is the notebook, and I couldn’t agree more.

Past lectures included soil improvement, composting, and irrigation. This week we discussed Agricultural History. According to Rishi, there were more bison in the US in 1500, than there are cows in the US today. Let that sink in for a second. While the numbers comparison alone is enough to make your #mindblown, the more troubling issue is that the bison were multiplying and able to feed themselves while creating zero waste- in fact, they were actually improving the ecosystems in which they participated by adding fertilizer, grazing overgrown meadows, and providing food for apex predators and other animals. The entire life cycle of the bison prior to European contact in what is now the US increased the health of the environment.

When compared to modern practices of cattle raising, a whole array of issues turns up; methane pools from large feed lots leak into and contaminate local water sources, corn and soy fields (used as cattle feed) necessitate deforestation, chemicals used in the entire process of raising, processing, and shipping beef add to an increased greenhouse effect, and on and on. Whereas the bison roamed free, multiplied exponentially, and were a net benefactor to the environment at large, commercial meat production is the exact opposite, a net polluter.

This comparison does not suggest the US or any country/company for that matter end meat production cold turkey, nor does it entertain the conviction that vegetarians are more justified than non vegetarians. It does however, challenge the idea that meat production, and therefore meat consumption be looked at meticulously and address any areas within that realm (and corresponding domains) that offer space (or even hope) for improvement. Eating less meat, growing your own garden, and supporting local growers and CSAs are just a few proactive measures that can decrease the damage of the human effect.

Environmentally responsible farming, oddly enough, requires more than just land, plants, and water. It requires the dissemination of ideas that promote permaculture and sustainability. It requires knowledge of ecosystems and processes, and the cost that the human effect imposes upon them. Above all, it requires a commitment to and genuine love of the land. Anybody could grow a crop or raise livestock, but to do so in such a way that benefits the land (and therefore people) simultaneously, requires a brave, almost heretical responsibility that begins at the individual level, but in time grows to include whole communities.

I was reading the Quran in preparation for my Scripture Study Group later in the week and I stumbled across a verse that I felt completely affirmed some of the concepts I have learned and experienced on the farm. The conversation between the Pharaoh in Egypt and Moses, who asks that he free the enslaved Jews by the commandment of God, is recounted:

“Pharaoh said, ‘Moses, who is this Lord of yours? Moses said, ‘Our Lord is He who gave everything its form, then gave it guidance.’

The first thing I thought of were the chickens! I know everyone thinks they’re normal, but having never really interacted with them, every encounter is like meeting a dinosaur- it feels like magic! God formed them with large feet, sharp nails, and beaks then gave them the guidance to scratch at the earth to get the insects, much in the same way that we have the natural instinct to suckle as babies though no one taught us in the womb. The chickens have no idea what part they play in creating fertile ground by turning the soil, nor do they know that they balance insect populations or that their eggs are an important source of protein. They just do what they do because they were created that way! I am reminded every time I cut grass for them and watch as they peck the ground around me that their creation is from God- and thus so is mine. He gave me long legs, agile fingers, a big brain, a sensitive tongue and the list will go on, so I may do much, including learning how to take care for the chickens, get what I need from them and not harm the environment all at the same time. That is the essence of what agro-ecology is- being a part of the ecosystem in a healthy way. Rishi pointed out that the term “natural” is used to define all things that are from nature and good, and “unnatural” is used to define all things man-made and bad.  The problem is that we place man in the category of unnatural. We are a very integral part of nature. When we take from the land we must realize that everything is God’s creation and therefore everything has a right. We shouldn’t destroy the earth to get what we need- which is what happens when we start to see ourselves and our needs as separate from the ecosystem. Toshiaki Kinezuka, an organic tea farmer in Japan, said it very simply: “Agriculture is something that should coexist with nature. When you start seeing it like that you realize that herbicides and pesticides, which completely kill off vegetation and insects, actually pollute the soil.”(You can watch it here: https://vimeo.com/160844441)

He said, ‘What about the former generations?’ Moses said, ‘My Lord alone has knowledge of them, all in a record; my Lord does not err or forget.’ It was He who spread out the earth for you and traced routes in it. He sent down water from the sky. With that water We bring forth every kind of plant, so eat, and graze your cattle.

I can reflect from this verse that the diversity in plant life is not just for my consumption but for the animals. That reminded me of the lesson Rishi gave us on Wednesday about how farming came about. The Fertile Crescent went from forest to desert because ecosystems were replaced by people. The more recent example was how the Dust Bowl came about, or how a population of buffalo, greater than the number of cows we have now, were decimated. The European colonialists tilled the grasslands of the Mid-West to plant wheat and barley. By tilling the soil they got rid of the roots and tops of plants. Plants are good for the soil because they retain moisture, give shade, provide and build up organic matter and in general promote and sustain the ecosystem. Not only did the colonialists destroy the existing life on the land, they introduced a foreign plant which brought foreign insects and microbes, displacing the native ecosystem. Wheat is an annual plant, so it did not grow back, leaving the Bison with nothing to graze on and the ground bare for half the year. God said eat but consume in a way where the cattle can still graze, which after this lesson translates for me into “DON’T till”! I think tilling is like sinning. It will temporarily seem like the best idea because it brings oxygen into the soil, kills weeds, releases nitrogen and breaks up clumps but in the long run it is very bad because it makes the soil looser which will cause erosion when it rains and kill all the life that had settled in the soil. In the Mid West of America tilling created dust out of lush prairies and killed the Bison that could have fed these colonists. Lessons learned: Eat of the diversity God provided but do so in a way that lets the livestock graze. In my opinion, agro-ecological farming is a divine recommendation.

There are truly signs in all this for people of understanding. From the earth We created you, into it We shall return you, and from it We shall raise you a second time.” (Surah Taha, Verse 49-55)

This last verse is something I have thought a lot about when watching the piles of molding oranges transform into the rich compost we sprinkle on new beds which so soon sprout little leaves of new life. I did not know about composting until recently, but I had been brought up knowing that I would become part of the Earth and then be raised up again in a new form so the idea was not at all foreign to me- it just seemed natural. Actually seeing those oranges break down into compost that then raise to carrots was a beautiful sign that God is the All-Powerful, Most Able, and the Truthful. As He said- “There are truly signs in all this for people of understanding”.

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dillOne of the things that I love about the farm is all the different factors it considers. In large parts of the farm there are areas dedicated to feeding the wild insect life. Huge berms separate different fields and the boarders of the farm are lined with beautiful flowering plants that act as food for insects. One thing I decided to do this year was grow dill inside of my young orchard in between my grasses. When reading about companion planting and attracting insects online there were pretty general instructions on what to have but not what actually cause the effect you’re looking for. Because of this I half expected Lady Bugs to flock in from all over just to hang out on my dill.  This didn’t happen. I realized to process was much slower moving than that.

I didn’t see anything until the Dill started flowering.  Then slowly I started to see Lady Bug larva crawling on the stems of the plant.  Then I started noticing chrysalis all around the garden on the grasses. What this made me realize was that I wasn’t going to just get the end result I was looking for from a one time planting. I needed to set up the support for the generations to come.

On the human scale I think our long life span inhibits us from thinking in this way. We generally think about what we want and need in our lifetime and the future will just have to figure its self out just like we’re doing. Farming and gardening is really helping me expand my outlook. I’m starting to think in context of long term goals instead of short term gains.  This feels much more realistic and seems grounded in the mechanics of nature that have gotten us this far.

Booooooooo

Booooooooo

The recent infestation of bagrada bugs has annihilated several beds of cruciferous vegetables, including arugula and mizuna. They appear when the temperatures are hot, so we expect to see more of them as summer sets in. There are no major predators for bagrada, and their primary food source is in the brassica family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, arugula, mizuna, mibuna, etc). We cut down a bed of arugula, but wanted to research some other options for dealing with this bug.

We read about a fungal control that might work. In the meantime, I thought compost tea might be worth a try, since we can make it freely and easily right away. Compost tea is mostly used to boost plant growth vigor & soil fertility, but it is also effective against plant diseases and some pests. Since the commercial biological control for bagrada was fungi, compost tea could potentially culture these specific strains or similar ones. At the very least, it would boost fungal diversity that might help suppress bagrada growth.

In essence, compost tea is created by steeping compost (usually worm compost) in a bucket of water. The microbes in the compost proliferate in the water over a period of 1-2 days and serve as an inoculum for the soil.

The popular method of brewing compost tea is taught by Elaine Ingham, PhD. A mixture of molasses, fish emulsion, and kelp is added to the tea to promote fungal growth. To ensure aerobic conditions, the tea is aerated either by stirring or using an electric air pump.

I am not a supreme expert on the microbial community of compost teas, but I have used a compost tea from a successful vermicompost company in New York, and I found that it suppresses root rot very well. Their method does not use active aeration, but instead uses passive aeration. When adding water to the bucket, oxygen bubbles naturally form. The water itself has oxygen in it, and there is an exchange of oxygen happening at the surface of the water. The worm compost is steeped in the water over 48 hours without stirring. They found fantastic results with this method and sell their compost tea to commercial growers. I don’t recall any additives, but they may not have told me everything as they keep their method proprietary.

JD built his own automatically aerated compost tea brewing system and typically adds fish emulsion and kelp to his tea. We decided to experiment with both compost teas on bagrada. For each bed we tested, JD’s compost tea was applied to a third of the bed, my compost tea was applied to another third, and the last third was left without any application to serve as a control. The mizuna bed is pretty much done for, so we don’t expect it to recover, but we can still assess the effects of our compost tea application on bagrada, and we can compare our brewing methods and their effects on plant health.

I am excited about doing this little experiment on the farm and will report back next week with our results.

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Description

loquat is a fruit in the same family as roses. It is native to China, and is a highly popular fruit in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. loquat‘s flavor varies wildly from variety to variety, and ours is slightly sour with plenty of sweet. Eat the outside flesh and spit out the beautiful seeds.

In the Kitchen

No recipe needed! Eat these babies up.

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Description

strawberry guavas are tiny, strawberry flavored versions of guavas. They are really sweet, with a bit of strawberry tang. Watch out for the hard seeds in the center (you can chew them up as long as your teeth are healthy).

In the Kitchen

No recipe needed! Eat these babies up.

0
Farm Update

Hello CSA members!

The sun rises higher and the farm’s bounty rises with it. Now that we are well into spring, we are no longer rising in complete darkness to get farming, and it seems that the fields are enjoying the extra sun bath as well. I’m sure you all have noticed the size of the beets and carrots in your CSA boxes growing, and the greens growing taller and taller. Have you noticed those stalks on the swiss chard? They are a bit ridiculous (we have to chop off nearly a foot of stem just to fit them in your box). Aside from continuing to plant out our summer vegetables (this week we  planted 2 varieties of tomatoes and 2 varieties of peppers), we have also been working some infrastructural changes to the farm. We put up a beautiful bamboo fence between the orchard and the vegetable fields to keep the chickens from coming in and grazing the fields (they seem to prefer pac choi to grass), extended our shade structure to account for the higher sun angle, and we will soon be putting up our electric fence to allow the chickens to roam our pastures all day. I hope you are enjoying the bounty of all of our hard work! We know we are. Until next time!

Farmer Rishi
Founder/Director, The Growing Club

Photos of the Week

Coffee, Compost and Conversation attendees learning and sharing compost.

Coffee, Compost and Conversation attendees learning and sharing compost.

Manju, Alex, and Lynn celebrating Holi with the wildflowers.

Manju, Alex, and Lynn celebrating Holi with the wildflowers.

A beautiful carrot fresh from the field.

A beautiful carrot fresh from the field.

This week’s CSA Box

(Please click each item below for a larger photo, description, and preparation instructions.)

NOTE: We are trying to get around to update vegetables descriptions. In the mean time, for items without a provided description, feel free to Google uses and recipes.

Vegetables:
– 1 bunch carrots
– 1 bunch beets*
– 1 head broccoli
– 1 bunch celtuce

Green Vegetables:
– 1 bunch mixed kale
– 1 bunch pak choi
– 1 bunch swiss chard
– 1 head Skyphos lettuce*

Herbs:
– 1 bunch cilantro*
– 1 bunch mint

Fruit:
– 1 box strawberry guava (please return box)*
– 1 box loquats **
– 2 lemons*

*LARGE VEGGIE BOX ONLY
**SMALL VEGGIE BOX ONLY

Storage Instructions

Leafy Vegetables
In case your greens are wilted by the time you pickup your box, please follow these instructions:

– Fill a small bowl or tub with 1 inch of water
– Cut a 1/2 inch of the bottoms of the stems of your leafy greens
– Place greens, with stems down, into the bowl of water
– Leave the greens in the bowl overnight and by morning they should be rehydrated

Wrap your rehydrated greens in a towel and store the in the fridge. Summer greens like water spinach, moringa, and yam leaves don’t last long either way, so eat those as soon as you can.

Herbs
The best way to store your herbs so that they keep longer is to cut the stems a little and place them in a glass filled with about an inch of water. Cover the leaves loosely with a bag and keep them in the refrigerator. Replace the water inside when it gets cloudy. This works great with basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, and many other herbs.

Please feel free to share your recipes with us and also any storing tips you may have. 🙂

So if your soil doesn’t fall within the equal proportions sand, silt and clay, or nothing grows, or you’d like for your vegetables to have the ideal base to grow from these are the strategies for building up the soil:

Add organic matter which is like offering a buffet to the microbes. If you want lot of people to come to a party, you advertise food. The tried and true way is by putting down a lasagna mulch, which is also called sheet mulching. The lasagna mulch should start with 10 inches of wood chips, then 10 inches of stable bedding, then 2 inches in wood chips (to cover smell) and 8 inches of compost. You must water ½ hour every 2 weeks for a year. Because we’re not going to turn the soil there needs to be a balance of nitrogen and carbon. There needs to be a certain amount of nitrogen for microbes to eat the carbon.

You can make your own compost pile by gathering your organic “waste” in one place and creating a pile. This pile needs to be balanced in nitrogen and carbon. The nitrogen and carbon ratio should be 1:1 or 2:1.

  • Nitrogen is fleshy, poppy, green stuff. Hot material is high in nitrogen. That is manure, coffee grounds and brewery waste. Food scraps and plant cuttings are in the middle. Low nitrogen are manure from small animals like rabbits. Dairy, meat and blood are heavy in nitrogen. We eat a lot of nitrogen because we are made of nitrogen. Nitrogen should only be in thin layers as it will go anaerobic without carbon.
  • Carbon is woody fuel. Carbon is brown stuff like woody, saw dust, newspaper, cardboard, hay, straw.

We also want different materials so that is attracts different organisms: coffee grounds, juice pulp, food scraps. Microorganisms will be decomposing this material. We will know there are microorganisms there if we feel heat, because as they eat, they give off heat. The pile should be around 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat of compost prevents further weed seed germination. You need to create specific conditions by providing right food ratio, water and oxygen. Water should be added as building layers. The pile should also be shifted and take from different parts so they are exposed to the hot temperature. Turning also makes sure they got oxygen because if they don’t, a different organism will starts decomposing and they release methane gasses. (Horse bedding or woodchips should cover the compost if there is smell.) After creating the pile, we will want to turn it after 1-2 weeks.

There are heavy metals and chemicals in ink so it is better to recycle things like glossy magazines and laser printed paper as there are lead in paint pigments. Uncommon things you can compost are dryer lint, natural cotton, hair, nails, and all natural rubber (all natural should be changed to tree based).

Humus is the end product of compost. It is a dark chocholate soil that is resistant to further breakdown. There is fresh organic, then secondary, then humus/fuluic Acid which we call compost.

Cover cropping is to plant something specifically to feed the soil. Poor soil is dry, lifeless, hard and compacted. If there is low nitrogen plant nitrogen fixers which have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria, such as beans, legumes, peas, trees, lupines, clover and vetch. If there is low organic material plant deep, fibrous roots such as perennial rhye, wheat, oats, grasses, millets. You want to kill the top and leave the roots. If hard and compacted plant tap roots and deep rooted vegetables such as daikon, burdock, comfrey, potatoes. To attract life plant flowers, cilantro flowers, sunflowers, hibiscus, daikon, mustard family. This reminds me of what the Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) said: “There is no disease that Allah has sent down except that He also has sent down its treatment.” [The Book of Medicine: Sahih Bukhari]