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Archive for February, 2014

This is part 2 of a series of educational posts on why we choose to grow our produce using ecological methods.

The pros and cons of Raised Beds.

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Pros:

– Better drainage, especially in the Spring when the snow melts and there is significant rainfall.

– Beds warm up quicker in Spring – 8 to 13 degrees F higher than ground temperatures – which means crops can go in sooner and be ready for harvesting sooner.

– Less waste, saves money in the long-term. Irrigation is more efficient,  compost + amendments are only put where crops will be, less seeds are needed, and less space is required for the same yield. As Jean-Martin Fortier says, “Grow better, not bigger.” For example, the typical 100-foot row takes up at least 300 sq ft of space (because of paths to accommodate tractors) and will yield 100 pounds of carrots. In contrast, a raised bed of 32 sq ft will also yield 100 pounds of carrots. Using row gardening the farmer has to fertilize, mulch, add compost to, weed, and water 300 sq ft to get that 100 pounds. – Brett L. Markham “Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre”

– Doesn’t damage or interfere with the biological creatures – microbes, worms – needed to decompose and provide nitrogen to crops. I expand on this in the previous article on The Importance of Soil.

– Permanent beds have many benefits as explained in The Importance of Soil. In addition, framing the beds in means not having to re-make them with equipment every 3-4 years.

– Reduces or eliminates the need for tractors, roto-tillers, other large equipment, and the fossil fuels needed to run them. This is inline with our desire to grow food in a truly sustainable way, relying on humans and hand tools rather than machines.

– Being able to improve soil that isn’t already “perfect”. With farmland at a premium new farmers have to get creative with their ability to access land. One way to handle less than perfect soil is to create raised beds to have the soil texture and nutrition necessary. The family farm in Tilbury is highly nutritious but a difficult to work with heavy clay. While some crops thrive in this soil many more struggle. Raised beds allow us to improve the soil while keeping our farm in the family. We can make each bed differently to accommodate the different needs of various crops.

– Less weeds. This is a big one. By not tilling or using soil that has dormant weed seeds we greatly reduce the number of weeds in our raised beds. It’s important to get high quality professional compost, amendments, and mulch, so that you don’t import weeds.

– Adding posts for trellising, making cold frames to extend the season, and using row cover or insect netting are much easier because the beds provide the stability and materials needed for these items.

– Discourages certain pests – slugs, carrot fly – because they stay near the ground; adding mesh will keep out moles, voles, and gophers.

– Greater accessibility for the elderly and those with mobility or chronic illness; they can also be raised even higher to allow people in wheelchairs to garden.

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Cons:

– The time involved to get boxes done involves a lot of initial preparation.

– The set-up costs are larger initially.

– It can be difficult to find untreated wood or other reclaimed products that don’t leach undesirable chemicals. We were able to get a large amount of untreated wood at a discounted end-of-the-season sale.

– If large amounts of mulch aren’t used there is a tendency to dry out quickly especially in semi-arid or desert areas or areas prone to drought.

– Not moveable so it’s important to pick the right location and to consider all the variables (shade/sun, etc) before putting in raised beds.

– Not good for potatoes or crops that need a lot of room to grow like melons and squash.

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What we will be doing at our Lakeshore location:

– Putting companion planting into permanent practice; being able to have beneficial plants as hosts and habitat that will stay year-round.

– Letting crops that easily-self seed have their own beds means less work, less money spent.

– Because of the large time investment to create these boxes we will be favouring certain crops for the raised beds. Squash and melons will be grown under a mulch of straw and allowed to ramble. Tomatoes and Peppers will continue to be grown under black plastic mulch. We will be creating several Hugelkultur beds as well.

Our partner farm, Faerie Willow Farm, will also be using raised beds on their beautiful soil.

We’d like to experiment using materials other than wood for our beds. We are looking for cinder blocks, cement blocks, bricks, rocks, tree trunks + large limbs, and even large Lego blocks! Let us know if you have or see any of these materials available!

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Part 3 will focus on the importance of companion planting and of creating habitat for beneficial creatures with perennial plants.

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Baby Watermelon, an early variety grown from seed we saved last year

We are pleased to announce we are now accepting registrations for weekly CSA baskets in 2014!

How does it work?

You buy a share in our CSA and pick up a weekly basket of seasonal, fresh, local, ecologically-grown food from one of our farm locations. It’s a great way to see where and how your food is grown and to put a face to your farmer. You are directly supporting local farmers and their families!

Weekly baskets will be mostly fixed items but we have also planned out flexibility and some choice of veggies for this year.

How much does it cost?

You will get $25 worth of our farm, and partners’, produce every week for 20 weeks, an investment of $500. The first harvest is in mid-June and ends in early November.

How much is the deposit?

The deposit is $250 and can be paid in cash, by cheque, or by email money transfer. We do not hold a spot without a deposit. First come, first serve.

A deposit is required so that we can properly plan for the season and purchase the seeds, baskets, compost, row cover and other equipment we need to start planting. Our first crops go in the ground in early April, and heat-loving crops such as tomatoes and peppers need to be germinated indoors by March. Other crops are started indoors in February.

Where is the pickup?

Our main pickup location is in Lakeshore, near the border of Tilbury. We are offering a limited number of spaces at our location near Leamington. A pickup location closer to Windsor hasn’t yet been finalized.

Pickup in Lakeshore will be on Monday afternoons from 4-7pm. Pickup in Leamington and Windsor (Tecumseh Rd at Lauzon and on Devonshire Rd in Walkerville, a South Windsor location is TBD) will be on Tuesday afternoons from 4-7pm. We are still working on a location in Chatham.

What if I think $25/week is too much food?

If you think $25/week is more produce than you can handle we suggest splitting it with someone. You can either split it each week or pick up on alternating weeks. We also provide tips on easy ways to preserve your veggies (the blog already has a lot of great ideas on it!) Make your locally-grown, ecological produce last longer – you’ll be glad you did once Winter comes!

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What are the benefits and the risks of CSA?

Getting to know your farmer, our families, how we grow food with your health and the planet’s health in mind – these are invaluable and priceless. We are a child-friendly farm and welcome families and individuals who want to know more about what we are doing and how we put this all together. It’s not magic! Well…a little.

Community Supported Agriculture also means sharing in some of the risks that farmers take – unpredictable weather being the most difficult risk to manage. Late frost, early frost, drought, floods – all in one season! As well as insect + disease pressure , and more! This might mean a complete or partial failure of a crop. When we do our pre-season planning we put in safety factors and grow 10-15% more than necessary to mitigate these risks. If everything goes well then CSA members share in the bounty!

How do I find out more?

Peruse this blog to see the variety of produce we offered for the last 3 seasons!

New this year: a referral program. If you are a paid, returning member, and you refer someone else you will be put into a draw for an organically-grown pastured chicken worth $35!

Also new this year, we are offering a limited number of work-shares. This can be a commitment to help at least 5hrs/wk throughout the 20 weeks to receive a full share’s worth of produce each week. Or, if you can’t commit every week, you can still leave with a bag of produce after you volunteer for 5 hours during the harvest season.

If there is enough demand we can look at holding a new (and returning) members meeting in order to answer questions and explain how the program works.

To register for the weekly baskets, to request a meeting, or for more information please email:

locallygerminated@gmail.com

Please share this with anyone you know who is interested in local food and healthy eating.

From our farm to you,

Garlic Scape Heart

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This is the first of a series of posts on why the way we grow our food is more important than labels like “organic”, “local”, or “natural”.

Growing food ecologically is more than simply not using pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, artificial fertilizers, and GMO’s. It’s a wholistic system that takes into account soil health, natural fertility, pollinators, beneficial insects, companion planting, the significance of weeds, birds and other animals, clean water, and more. Without healthy soil we cannot grow healthy food as plants can only take up nutrients found in the soil.

From Wikipedia: “Since soil has a tremendous range of available niches and habitats, it contains most of the earth’s genetic diversity. A handful of soil can contain billions of organisms, belonging to thousands of species.” These beneficial microbes live in compost and in fertile soil and do all the heavy lifting that makes it possible for our food to grow and to be nutritious.

When we disturb the soil with practices such as tilling we destroy the balance of these creatures and their ability to decompose and create fertile soil. Large scale producers must add fossil fuel based artificial fertilizers in order to keep growing food because the soil has been rendered infertile. Most organic farmers employ extensive tilling without considering that they are disturbing this precious balance while also creating a hardpan and compaction that weakens a plants roots and its ability to grow over the long term.

hardpan

Very few farmers employ permanent raised beds and compact their growing area every year. Other benefits to raised beds include: less weeding, soil that warms up more quickly in spring, efficient irrigation + drainage, reduced need for compost + mulch, growing more food in less space, and more.

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Tilling also kills the worms working so hard to make our soil more fertile and aerated. From Wikipedia: “Earthworm activity aerates and mixes the soil, and is conducive to mineralization of nutrients and uptake of them by vegetation. Certain species of earthworm come to the surface and graze on the higher concentrations of organic matter present there, mixing it with the mineral soil. Because a high level of organic matter mixing is associated with soil fertility, an abundance of earthworms is generally considered beneficial by the organic gardener. Plant roots depend on the process of respiration, and on soil ventilation, which can be accomplished via networks of soil pores and by the tunnels created by earthworms.As an ecological farmer, it’s important to me that this balance is kept, not destroyed.

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A wealth of information can be found here: http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010117attrasoilmanual/010117attra.html – lots of great resources on soil and microbes and earthworms

Tilling and ploughing were used a century ago because they gave a very short term shot of nitrogen to plants and appeared to make plants larger and more abundant. This effect wears off after a couple of years.

Tilling brings up weed seeds every time and the task of weeding – the bane of an organic farmers existence – is made more and more difficult every year, and it never ends.

Topsoil capable of growing food and supporting us is disappearing at an alarming rate every year and it takes 800 to 1000 years for a 2.5 cm thick layer of fertile soil to be formed in nature. We must work to protect this this topsoil. We can use different ways to manage our soils.

Permaculture is the only system that has the preservation of soil – and all it’s creatures – at it’s core.

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At our farm we use cover crops – plants with fibrous roots – and chop them manually to add the plant matter back to the soil as mulch while creating organic matter. Cover crops are also useful as a living mulch – feeding microbes, keeping the soil moist, keeping weeds under control. Micro-organisms, including fungi and bacteria, affect chemical exchanges between roots and soil and act as a reserve of nutrients. Dead plants and fallen leaves and stems begin their decomposition on the surface. There, soil organisms feed on them, mixing the organic material with the upper soil layers; these added organic compounds become part of the soil formation process. Humans impact soil formation by removing vegetation cover, resulting in erosion and loss of organic matter.

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We can help speed up the process of creating organic matter and topsoil not with tilling but by adding new materials throughout the season, with sheet mulching, trench mulching, or lasagne gardening. Burying whole or pieces of fish is another old practice. We enrich the soil with finished compost, vermicompost, and composted animal manures, creating our own sped-up organic matter and topsoil.

No-till, or no-dig, gardening works well in both small and large-scale gardens. It can improve soils that are hard to manage, such as the clay we have at the Tilbury farm. By combining techniques from Permaculture, Biologically Intensive, French Intensive, Hugelkultur, Raised Bed Gardening, Square-Foot Gardening, Ecological Gardening, Small-Scale Garden Marketing, and Eliot Coleman we can improve and make more productive any soil type. This works especially well with our clay soil.

Clay holds water well in a drought, has many more minerals, but creates a hardpan easily and is difficult to manage when wet. Sand doesn’t hold water thus needing constant irrigation, is low in nutrition, leaching minerals, and needs constant fertilization but it makes a darn fine seed bed.

Next Installment: The Pros and Cons of Raised Beds

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We are gearing up for 2014! This is our ad on kijiji, please share!

We are a local, ecological and, diverse mixed farm located in Lakeshore near the border of Chatham-Kent. We grow and market food in an innovative way – through a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. We grow 60+ different vegetables and herbs for our weekly baskets and pride ourselves on providing the freshest and healthiest veggies available. We use innovative growing methods, borrowing from Permaculture, Square-Foot Gardening, Hugelkultur, Biologically Intensive (French intensive), small-scale market gardening, and Ecological methods (going beyond Organic certification requirements). We have over 50 years of farming experience.

An intern will receive minimum wage for 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week, for 20 weeks (please email for further information). You will have the opportunity to learn a variety of skills – building raised beds, sheet mulching, fruit forest gardening, companion planting, creating beneficial habitat, weeding, harvesting, trellising, seedling care, animal care (chickens, turkeys, pigs), composting, irrigation, passive water capture, mulching, wild edibles + foraging, as well as how to grow a diverse variety of crops. Start and end dates are flexible – starting in either May or June and ending in September or October.

This will differ from a traditional intern position. It will be paid and there won’t be a separate educational component. You may learn about how we plan and manage our CSA boxes but it won’t be a large component. What we are looking for is someone who wants to learn about market gardening and ecological food –growing and can commit to being present for the full season. We are a child-friendly farm.

If you’re looking to learn about new ways to grow food and are willing to get dirty, this is the experience for you!

Please send an email with your interest and availability to locallygerminated@gmail.com

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