Category: Farmers Journal

While I know I’m behind on my weekly posts, I do a lot of reflection on my commutes back and forth to the farm.  At first I used to listen to a lot of NPR, so much so that I would catch repeats of different segments since I was driving very early in the morning and then in the late afternoon. One of the main reasons I was listening though was because it was the first 30 days of the Trump administration and I was in need of some ammunition in direct relation to current events. I know that very few people hold the same beliefs and values as I do so intellectual ammunition is needed when I need to defend and counteract to comments coming from mostly old men like my dad and my old boss. While some would say NPR is very liberal biased- at least they try and interview people from the opposite side. I think it’s always important to understand, study, and analyze those in power and who/what they are controlling.

A few weeks ago, Sarvodaya Farms encountered an enemy… the parasitic nematode! They had some significant root damage on the beets!

While it was sad to pull up the beets and see their roots turn into cyst like beaded curtains (lol side tangent: I feel like Maya would have beaded curtains in her room); what an incredible teaching moment I encountered with Manju. (side tangent: For anyone who is looking to apply for the internship- Manju is an incredible teacher- she verbalizes her thought process in her observations and makes sure that everything she does is a teachable moment- it’s very inspiring and also has taught me so much in how I can be a better teacher. Rishi is an equally amazing teacher- his lessons are literally mind blowing- every Wednesday I leave the farm questioning everything related to life, find myself saying this a lot “dang this makes so much more sense!”)

I had never witnessed nematodes before and now that I’m writing this post I will remember them forever and hopefully can teach someone else around me as I continue and build my farming super powers. What an incredible teaching farm Sarvodaya Farms is!

Back to the enemy. I think when studying any opposition, one good and effective strategy is to study their life. Where did they come from? What are their daily habits? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? When it comes to pests I think questions like when do they breed? What kind of environments do they seek out? These questions can then hopefully lead to answers since lets face it Bt isn’t the miracle pest bacterium for all pests. I wouldn’t want nature to work like that anyways.

Here are some things I found out about the life of the nematode:

LIFE/EVOLUTION of Nematodes

  • from the diagram you can see it has 6 stages: egg, 4 juvenile stages, and adult. Production of the eggs completes the cycle and nematodes can produce anywhere from 50 to 1,000 eggs
  • there are 1 million different kinds of nematodes and are 1 billion years old and are the most numerous multicellular animal in the world.
  • In terms of species relation, they are relatives of insects, arachnids, and crustaceans and have soft bodies.
  • It is said they were first microbial feeders in the primordial oceans but nematodes have evolved their ability to parasitize animals and plants several times
    • They are highly equipped to take on their hosts!
  • Nematodes have evolved to fill almost every conceivable niche on earth that contains some amount of moisture. (important to note: maybe drying them out is a potential solution!)
  • Nematodes are free living: 40% of them feed on bacteria, fungi, and protozoans, 44% on animals, and 15% on plants.
  • In plants, nematodes were first discovered in 1743 on wheat seeds and since then a whole field of nematology has formed.

PLANT PARASITIC NEMATODES

  • They are tiny worms 0.25-3 mm long, cylindrical, and taper towards head/tail
  • They have no respiratory or circulatory system- they use diffusion to get its nutrients
  • They move in snake like movments and at its head have hollow mouth spears to puncture the plant cells and secrete protein/metabolites to paralyze the plant
  • They thrive in warm soil temperature: 80-90 degrees and can complete their life cycle in 4 weeks.
    • Sarvodaya observation: there were quite a few temperature fluctuations in February/March, hot and cold days. I couldn’t decide if I would need shorts or pants at the farm some days.

SURVIVAL TACTICS

  • Since their predators are bacteria, fungi, and other nematodes, they live inside the plant tissue and make very little movement
  • Temperature extremes and moisture extremes is also a big enemy to nematodes but it seems that they have developed some mechanisms to tolerate bioextremes.
  • When females die, they will leave behind 1000s of eggs.
    • These parasites really know how to give to the next generation!

HOW TO DETECT

  • They attack at the root so it is difficult to see the symptoms above ground but some signs are yellowing, stunted top growth, and more weed growth around since the plant has been weakened.
    • I think at the farm they were detected when we harvested beets, but maybe someone noticed it before that, not sure.

REMEDIES

  • There doesn’t seem to be that magic nematicide like there was with Bt sprays but lots of farmers face nematode issues and therefore there is a lot written about some remedies.
  • Tillage: exposing soil to dry and temperature extremes will significantly destroy nematodes and their environments
    • One article said that tilling in crustacean shells would also help.
      • Interesting! Crustaceans are a species related to nematodes so this must have something to do with taking them down. They say to keep your enemies closer…
    • Washing your equipment! This will reduce the probability of spreading nematodes infestation to other parts of the farm
    • Crop rotation
      • One article recommended rotating with cotton but they didn’t specify where they were doing this
      • Other articles recommending rotating with crops that are not closely related to each other
      • Asparagus, corn, onions, garlic, and small grains will reduce nematode growth
      • Velvet beans and grasses like rye will build nematode resistance
    • The Mustard Effect!
      • The allelopathic properties of mustard and rapseed have nematode-antagonist energy to them!
        • At Sarvodaya, they decided to plant red mustard after taking out all of the beets from that bed
      • Soil amendments
        • Neem oil cake or neem seed cake- I wasn’t really sure how you make the cake but its like cluster of neem seeds I think
        • Sawdust
        • Bone meal
        • Green manure
        • Compost!
      • Nematophagous fungi is an enemy to nematodes, however current nematicides are highly expensive and haven’t really been tested.
        • Although 1 article stated that having perennial crops will increase the growth of nematophagous fungi.
        • I also then read in another article that marigold is a good thing to plant to resist against nematodes.

Conclusion:

  • For Sarvodaya Farms, since part of one bed was infested with nematodes, I think in addition to the red mustards, planting some marigolds would be helpful! As well as thinking about the next crop rotation and avoiding planting anything from the beetroot/amarynth family in that bed and neighboring beds. I never had velvet beans but something legumous sounds like it would be good?
  • In my short farming life history, I have never been successful at growing beets– it’s always been the one crop I’ve wanted to grow and also carrots! The beets that have been harvested at Sarvodaya have truly taken my breath away. I hope that one day I’ll be able to grow beets from start to finish. I think I have a leg up in my knowledge now thanks to the people at Sarvodaya. One of their beets weighed in over 3 lbs!

https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/viewhtml.php?id=149 (I liked this one the best!- most comprehensive.)

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/278965921_fig2_Fig-2-Life-Cycle-of-Root-Knot-Nematode

http://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/lso/SCOUT/Nematodes.htm

Whenever people ask you in an interview, what is your biggest weakness? Everyone is usually encouraged to bend the truth on this one because you want to show them only the perfect parts of yourself. If I were to truly answer this question, it would be time management. Not that I can’t plan things out in a timely fashion but rather I have the problem of believing that my desire to want to do everything can be achieved. While having Hermoine’s time turner would be dope (I own a knock off lol!), it’s not actually real. So instead sometimes I wish I could be a fungus! ….if I were a fungus I could potentially be in 2 places at once…(since you know they are the world’s largest living organism and are miles long)

Ever since I started at Sarvodaya Farms, I feel myself slowly evolving  into one of those microbe groupies… although to be honest I’m not the biggest fan of the Hidden Half of Nature but I will admit that I have significantly deepened my respect and appreciation for the hard work these “closest thing to a zombie” put in to keep our ecosystem in balance.

A long time ago, Rishi sent everyone an email suggesting that we look into Bt and neem oil. With my slow and steady pace with these posts, I was sure someone would have already posted about one or the other. But since I haven’t seen anyone write on it, I did a quick google scholar search on Bt hoping that I would find more history on Bt… Unfortunately SCIENTIFIC articles and journals spend very little typing space on history… go figure- could be one of the ways science is white washed…(check out Alexis’s teach in on this with the Free Radicals https://freerads.org/events/)

However I did come to find that Bt is also part of the microbe family! woohoo- who knew science research could have moments of joy 🙂 Anywho here is some bulleted summary points and my commentary sub-bulleted from my findings.

  • Bt aka bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium that carries insecticidal properties thanks to sporulation and targets lepidoptera (butterflies/moths), coleoptera (beetles), or diptera (flies/mosquitos)
    • my interpretation: Bt is part of that trendy microbial family (Bacillus: our favorite soil bacteria fam) and can produce the insecticidal crystalline proteins (ICPs) that kill the target insect such as these common agricultural pests: bollworms, stem borers, budworms, leafworms, gypsy moth, and the cabbe looper and diamondback moth. The specifics of its killing have to do with something called midgut epithelium where once its ingested Bt can create a leak in a insect’s midgut and lead to paralysis and then death. The killing takes hours to days (reminds me a bit of the brutality of  the sarvodaya cats preying on the baby gophers…)
      • Sarvodaya Farm side anecdote: there was a cabbage moth takeover in D7 in February 2017 and we sprayed Bt spray on it and the next week- there seemed to be no more holey cabbage!! And lucky CSA buyers- I think we just started harvesting our first cabbages of the season this past week; they look beautiful. (sorry I forgot to take a picture of the cabbage moth worm but it was green and squishy and Laurette is one fine hunter of them! Also another point: they lay these green elongated eggs on the underside of the leaves that when combined seriously are bigger than the cabbage moth itself. imagine birthing so many babies that aggregate to a size bigger than yourself! crazy.)
  • Egyptians were the first to recognize the insecticidal properties of B Thuringiensis. In 1901, Ishiwata Shigetane isolated Bt from dead silkworm larvae suffering from a disease called flacherie. Then a decade later a German dude named Berliner isolated the same thing from diseased flour moth larva and officially named it Bt. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the insecticidal crystal proteins were identified.
    • I think I clicked on at least 8 articles before I could find any mention of the Egyptians and even then it was 1 line! Also turns out Shigetane named it Bacillus sotto but not sure why thuringiensis won the title. (Thuringiensis is closely linked to the German state of Thuringia where the flour moth larvae was found… at least it wasn’t called Bacillus Berliner… lol so Bt it is. I wonder what the Egyptians called it?) I don’t really understand why we need this “modern science” to make up new words and convince the institutions in our system that something works when indigenous people or people from the past have been doing it for centuries.
  • By 1999, the EPA had registered over 182 Bt spray products but they only constituted 2% of the insecticide sales.  In 1987, scientists demonstrated that the Bt gene could be introduced and expressed into plants. By 2001, 69% of cotton, 26% of corn, and 68% of soybeans in the US were genetically engineered.
    • I’m not sure of the prices but I would guess that a Bt spray is probably much cheaper than buying genetically engineered seeds every season… since you only need to purchase the spray if you have an insect infestation in your crops. However thanks to the mechanics of our capitalist system, it is obviously much more profitable for industrial ag corporations to market and push for farmers to purchase GE seeds and these plants already equipped to destroy any of the target insects that might be eager to feed on them. Since like netflix and spotify, you make more $$ if you have subscribers instead of 1 time purchasers. genius… if your intentions and goals are profits over common sense or promoting healthy ecosystems. This is actually my biggest issue with genetically engineered crops- academic institutions continue to receive and rely on funding to do this research where corporations often times patent the knowledge and force farmers to develop a dependency on their products. And this dependency is almost too often encouraged by a farmers’ local government farm agency (aka USDA’s FSAs) and their local university ag extension officers who are there to support farmers. okay clearly I could keep going on and on so I’ll stop here. I hope I don’t become a hypocrite when I go to grad school in the fall… hold me accountable people!
  • Btw, there is a ton of diversity within Bt- there are more than 60 serotypes and hundreds of different subspecies.
    • with so much diversity I doubt microbes have such a concept as white supremacy or monoculture in their communities- I could be wrong though.

Overall conclusion, if you’re a farmer who is conscious about the ecosystem and still need to produce food for people, then I think Bt is a good short term solution to when your crops come across a moth, worm, or beetle problem. The longer term solution being you need to maintain and promote high soil fertility/health and strong, resilient ecosystems in your farm. Then you won’t have to go to the store to purchase this spray, unless you know how to cultivate this bacterium yourself. (anyone know how to? wouldn’t it be cool if we could make our own Bt like kombucha lol)

These are the 2 articles I sourced my bullets from. sorry was too lazy to use MLA or APA citation style, but hey this is just a blog so who cares!

http://ipm.ifas.ufl.edu/pdfs/100_years_of_bt.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21327125

As you may know or not know the chickens are fed pretty nicely here at Sarvodaya farms . They are fed an all organic scratch and peck feed, they are fed fat juicy grubs, and of course wheatgrass. The wheatgrass I feel is so important and essential to the chickens nutritional diet. They really enjoy eating it from what I see once we place the grass in their roaming area. This week my team and I (also with the help of Sara’s fabulous penmenship) made the wheatgrass station quite presentable.Thank you Laurette for being so detailed oriented, your vision made the whole thing come tother. It was very neat to watch you get in that zone.

I feel making the area personalized really added some more life to the chicken area. The station sort of looks like a wheatgreass stand where one could buy some fresh wheatgrass from. I sure would! It is a huge plus to be able to have quick access to the wheatgrass and be able to tend to it ourselves. Hopefully we can continue to keep the wheatgrass growth as well as the nursery team has kept it so far. Wish us luck!

Here are some picks of the station.

Monday was quite an interesting morning and the highlight of the week I must say. I was walking towards the nursery to plant some wheatgrass when i see on the corner of my eye one of the cats on the other side of the fence on the other yard over. Which is normal but it was walking a little different and appeared to have something in its mouth. Thats when i noticed little feet dangling from its mouth. It crawled under the fence back onto the farm towards the nursery where the cat released the gopher. I first thought the cat had caught a mouse but it was much to big. The gopher was still alive! The cat continued to chase and play with the gopher making it think it had a chance for escape.The cat would hit , paw at, bite and toss the gopher all kinds of ways . There was a point were I wanted the cat to end it already and put this poor gopher out of its misery. But this is very norma behavior for cats , as they like to “play” with their food. It is sort of like sport for them to do this to their prey. After about 30 mins cat had laid to rest and so did the gopher . The cat took a short break and then went on to consume the gopher . That was my cue to go ahead and continue my task that I had originally began to do but the excitement and slight discomfort of the whole scene still lingered as the day week went on. Oh and if you didn’t get from the end of the story there, the gopher lost =/ .

Here is a picture of the cat who ate the gopher

This week there was a big focus on beets , as they were being harvested heavily . A lot of the beets that were harvested were quite large and had a very pretty color on them. Let me just say, beats are not my favorite and I’ve never been a fan. But thats because i have always had canned or pickled ones. Those were the only ones i was introduced too.I was curious to taste them fresh since i had never done so before. So beats were available for staff to take that Friday and i was able to take one small one. I took it home along with some swish chard. I decided to cook them up tougher and make a warm said. Let me just tell you , it was an amazing combo. The sweet beet taste countered the chard taste and balanced so beautifully. It was an amazing meal and let me just tell you I am a fan now !

Here are some cool facts about beets and their benefits :
-Blood pressure can improve
-May drop risk of heart
-May improve stamina
-Help regulate you
-May help fight better against Chronic disease

Here is a picture of my salad that I made.

Heres the lovely beets that are harvested that day !
Look at this heart beet =). This beet reminded me of a heart.

I must admit that I am really naive to a lot of things.  I might have a bad case of ‘Out of sight out of mind’ syndrome, and to make matters worse, Im not alone in my thinking.  I’ve always been a recycler, but never thought much about the process.  I was a consumer (and still am) and then after consumption I just put the leftover unwanted parts in its appropriate bin and wait for someone else to come take it away.  They could be taking it to the planet Mars as far as I was concerned.  Come to find out, they aren’t shipping our trash to Mars, but China!

According to a US News article from April 2016, China and Ghana are the two largest destinations of US electronic trash.  Imagine a world filled with IPhone 4’s, ‘un-intelligent’ tv’s and maybe a pager or two.  This world exists, but it’s not exactly legal.  It’s not technically trade between nations but more like trade between businesses, since both China and Ghana signed a treaty (Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal) agreeing to ban hazardous waste imports.  According to the news artilcle, “scrap dealers, repairman and second-hand salesman constitite ‘informal cottage industries’ by showing up at docks to buy the electronic waste and risk exposure to toxic material in the hope of making extra cash by recycling.”

Recyling electronics isn’t as profitable as it used to be, because many companies are saving costs by using less minerals like gold and copper in their electronics.  It’s becoming more expensive then for recycling companies to make a profit recycling, and many businesses get around that by shipping recycleables overseas.  In 2014 the UN reported that in fact only 16% of all the worlds electronic waste was recycled by government agencies or sanctioned businesses.

The problem is that (1) consumers want the latest and greatest devices, (2) phones seem to just break too easily and (3) the general public just doesn’t think about the impact that all of these electronics has on the environment – myself included (until now that is).  I grew up with the ideas that as long as you put it in the appropriate bin then its all good…but its not ‘all good”.  According to the EPA, in 2013 the average U.S. household owned 28 consumer electronics and generated 3.14 million tons of electronic waste.

In 2016 China, apparently fed- up from being the worlds dump site, issued a ‘Green Fence’ policy in which they would reject shipments at ports if the recycles were too contaminated with unrecylcable materials.  The problems was that a lot of the reclylables they were receiving (not just electronics) were too dirty to recycle and ended up in the Chinese landfills.  The ‘Green Fence’ has actually helped maintain a higher standard when it comes to recycleable materials, and some US businesses are benefiting because of it.

….

All of this information is to say:  it just doesn’t go away.  Old, broken phones don’t dissapear.  Cracked screens become someone else’s problem, and I don’t think any government has found a way to send our trash into outer space yet.  We, as a world, have engineered amazing machines that can process trash and recylcleables, but the sheer quantity alone is alarming.  I have come to realize that I can only be responsible for myself, which is both frightening and empowering.  The farm has taught me to value and treasure food more than I ever thought I could.  I am learning to be less greedy and slowly limiting my consumption, but these are hard habits to break.  In a world where convenience is king and efficiency queen, it often feels like an uphill battle.

Nearly every day, my children hear me exclaim something like, “Look how beautiful this is! Look at the patterns!” as I chop vegetables or fruit.  To me, the every day eating and cooking we do is a form of art and experience of the sublime that nourishes the soul.  I am literally in awe at the complexity and intricate beauty of all plant life.  So it was not surprising, yet still poignant to me, when Manju sliced this orange and we saw hearts in it.

Yes, of course, on the farm the fruit (the produce, the soil, the people) is filled with LOVE.

I also love my dirty fingernails in this pic. This is my new normal. I have stopped apologizing for soil in my fingernails. Instead I think of the healthy microbes there hitching a ride from Lynn’s fab compost to my world, inoculating us.  (This also helps me, when my five year old refuses to wash the dirt out of his nails)

And here we are!  These sprouts unfolding beautifully into the unique bloom that they are meant to be. And the vegetables they are holding are amazing too 😉  I’m so proud and impressed at the way they have each made and are making this experience their own.

And as I look behind us and reflect on that this is just a half acre in the midst of an urban environment…I am hopeful for all of our future happiness together and wherever each of our roads lead us individually. I know that our time here will always be with us.

For me, the closer I feel to true joy and connection (within, with the plants, with others), the more palpable my YES is, the more all the other distractions fade away.  I resist less and smile wider.

 

Working with the compost crew

This pic says it all 🙂

Photo bomb!

Hanging out with Sara 🙂

(Maya will add text soon)

I was surprised when we started at the farm how uncomfortable it was for me to squat and plant seedlings in the fields. So honestly, when I moved to the field team I was worried…but also ready for a challenge.  Recently, I have been very inspired by John Robbins’ book “Healthy at 100”  which challenges our limited views of aging and explores features of centenarian culture, including; plant centered (but not vegan) eating, exercise through lifestyle (i.e .farming and walking), community, rest, balance.  Before this, I was starting to consider myself ‘old’ at 42 and settle for limited physical ability. After reading the book, I am embracing an attitude of youthfulness and seeking every opportunity to incorporate exercise in my life.

So with that in mind, when Katie asked me to plant this entire seed tray of cilantro, although I freaked out a bit internally, I breathed into it. I should mention, I have an injured muscle behind my right knee that makes it even harder to squat/kneel. So I paced myself.  Usually, when we plant a bed, it is with a few of us and the many hands make light work.  But this time, it was just me. Though it really was a challenge, I felt proud of myself when I was finished, and relished another opportunity to grow out of patterns of ease and inactivity into purposeful, wholesome action.

You can’t get me to walk a treadmill or go for a run…but I will gladly rake, garden, shovel mulch…and now ‘plant seedlings.’  All of these forms of exercise that are connected to the earth, and include the sensual experience of the earth…hands in soil, woodsy scent of mulch, beauty of all plant and insect life, satisfaction of being part of the earth’s innate processes….are fun and therapeutic forms of exercise; my kind of bootcamp.

I’m hoping in time, to be able to squat like Manju and Chika 😉