Organic Ag May Block – MUM

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Garden Prereqs 5.20.13

As with most any project, it takes a good mix of research and experience to efficiently master a new skill. So, although you may go through a lot of trial and error, lets review some main points you’ll want to visit before starting your own garden in order to make that process a little lighter.

Look into the following aspects:

When does the main planting season start?

When are you first and last frosts?

When are you first and last rainy season dates?

How does precipitation play a role in your climate? (rainy/dry?)

Which crops and varieties grow well in your area? Which grow poorly?

What are the special requirements of your specific soil?

Are there any dramatic climatic conditions to be aware of? (dry spells, heavy wind, excessive rain) – If so how do others gardener and farmers plan for this?

With the permission of my teacher, I’m considering designing a garden for my parents as a final project in this class, so I wou;d be visiting each of these questions. For instance I can tell you already that although in Tucson Arizona we don’t have a consistent frost calendar, we definitely get both ends of the spectrum with dryness and rain (monsoons). This will be a big factor as to what I suggest plant and where I suggest planting. Also, as I now reflect on the soil conditions in Tucson I realize there’s a vast range of soil types, so I will need to find the soil type of the exact area I plan to design for.

Once you get a grasp on the above aspects, you’ll lay a more guided foundation on which you can plan crop varieties. Next would be the time to revisit the 60/30/10 concept and analyze what crops will best suite your diet and your land.

Things you might consider as you are sorting through this process would be:

What plants can you use as pest regulators? What plants can you use as pollinator attractors? What plants will work in companion to keep harmful insects and predators away, yet aide each other in flourishing?

Once you get a good foundation set, and a good idea then of what you’d like your main crops to be, you can start researching what type of plants you’d like to sow for the off season. For example, most growing seasons here in the US run from May 20th to September 30th – for main crop (most veggies, fruits, and grains) – the winter time is a nice time to give your land some added nutrients. Biointensive suggests you plant winter crops that can be harvested for mature compost material, calories, and for soil biology support.

My grandfather and grandmother grew up farming and I often heard them talk about “letting the land rest”. I always thought this made sense, just like people need rest at times to rejuvenate their mind and body, also could the land need a break from constantly producing. Now I’m seeing another side to it all. The land is living just like the produce, so then  is it best to let the land rest by not planting, or are we starving the living organisms in the land of nutrients by flooding them with goodness for only part of the year?

I’ll wrap it up by throwing in a couple other items of consideration-

A cover catch crop (such as buckwheat) could be intermingled later in the main growing season.

Vary your veggies over time, for both your benefit and the benefit of the land.

More compost crops = more sustainability


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Local Permaculture and Snapshots 5.20.13

Just of the square of Fairfield a local resident, Kelly, has bought two houses and converted her backyard into a permaculture site where students can rent rooms and work the land. It’s a pretty sweet set up and has grown rapidly since her establishment. In fall of last year there were about 4 to 5 medium sized beds, with a greenhouse, compost and a newly introduced vermipost bin. Now Kelly and her tenants have all this plus a barn and outdoor pin full of chickens and extremely cared for bee homes. There are a lot of really neat intricacies to this backyard oasis and I’m so proud of my friends who aid this site in its progression.

I do not have pictures of Kelly’s, but I have some from yesterday’s visit to Earth Choice. Here they be! :


Chillin chickens..


Some of Choice Earth’s beautiful flowers….

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Ryan and Henry end the day a stick fencing match..Image

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Choice Earth Farm Visit 5.17.13

Our all day field trip to Billy and Dawn Hunter’s place was pretty productive! They have a generous portion of land just about 10 minutes outside of Fairfield, where they run a biodynamic farm called Choice Earth Farm. There they have tons of chicken, who coop just outside their home. Down the way they have some varieties of trees, along side 2 bee box homes. A pretty sweet play spot for children and picnic tables compliment a large crop bed, sitting up next to their barn. Behind the barn there are some nice seating areas with beds of strawberries and asparagus. Further down the hill there is some portioned off land that holds the greenhouse, as well as 3 or 4 other beds. To the left of this area is the compost station and on further is wild land with a creek running through. The whole place is zoned very nicely! Choice Earth provides their own sustainability as well as puts on events and most recently has begun to sell their flowers as a shop down the street.

In the morning we split up into three groups. Two people went and shoveled hay for the mulching project, three of us helped refresh the strawberry and asparagus bed, while the rest helped switch out the cover top of the greenhouse. Helping with strawberry and asparagus beds, my group began by using hula-hoes to weed the beds. We would churn up the weeds in the bed to their roots and then leave them there as a layer of green mulch. Next we laid down cardboard on the walkways, which not only provides protection from soil compaction, but breaks down into the soil, aiding the soil’s organic matter. On top the cardboard we scattered hefty amounts of hay, which would quickly compact toward the ground and support the bed similarly as the cardboard. After that we gave the plants a drink and went on to weed some beds near the greenhouse.

After breaking for lunch, we began making some biodynamic compost. While one team turned over the compost that students made in previous years, another team layered ingredients; bottom layer of sticks to lay a fungi loving foundation for aeration, then repeated layers of greens (grass clippings and nettles), hay and manure. While layering we had the hose showering water over the pile. We continued to layer these until the pile was nearly 5 feet tall, which will shrink down two thirds that size in no time. Once we covered the mound with hay and gave it one last soak we then added the homeopathic remedies – Yarrow, Chamomile, Oak Bark, Dandelion, Valerian and Horse Tail

While making the compost we also switched off stirring biodynamics compounds in to water, using the aerating vortex method I mentioned the other day. One was a 500 and I didn’t catch what the other was. Compound 500 is soil and cow manure (from a lactating cow) stuffed in the horn of a dead female cow and buried in the ground from fall to spring. When mixed with water and added to the compost it supports soil structure and humus formulation, stimulates microorganisms, aides in nutrient availability. Once we had finished the compost, we then took brushes and the buckets of these biodynamic mixtures and fairy dusted the Choice Earth Farm.

It’s so neat to do this hands on. It’s a completely different experience from learning it in text form, and with both Dr. Thim’s presentation and this field trip I feel like understand what we learned in a more authentic way 🙂

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Colleen Bell visit 5.16.13

I’ll admit, this pale eyed desert city girl is beat. Between being on the end of the school year, switching up my schedule to squeeze in a training course and playing in the dirt and sunshine all day I’m about ready for bed at 7 pm. I can only imagine how I’d be holding up if we’d put extra hours in at Colleen’s today.

Collen Bell owns an 120 year old farm house just off of Highway 1 here in Fairfield. She announced today that she found a new term which she felt described what she does very well – Farmening. This is a mix of gardening and farming. She definitely has a larger scale garden going on, but it isn’t big enough to pull out the machines, where which we could then classify it as farming.

Colleen has probably around 20 beds of different proportions, as well as some crop trees and honey bees. There is a mini green house, which she really makes come to life with her permaculture-style mauto of “use every inch!” The greenhouse backs the garage which lead around to a nice edge-creating pond. She’s got a quad-sectional compost bin with 3 different types of compost. She’s begun to take the issue of the huge building adjacent to her, who’s roof run off would flood her land, and turn it into an opportunity to harvest rain water.

Her and her husband run the land majorly on their own, but run a great trade system with locals and students, where you can come and help out in her garden for trade of some delicious herbs, veggies or fruits. When I first arrived to Fairfield I met Colleen at a Farmer’s Market and ended up doing some trade work for her with some friends. She is so personable, sweet and really knows her plants. She is innovative with her plants, constantly seeing what kind of new species would enjoy Iowa. She’s got plants from dinosaur kale to mashua.

Today we moved cinder block and did some leveling, in order to create wider pathways in between some of her beds. Colleen is an absolute delight to work with and is really in tune with the sustainable world as well. I highly recommend her to anyone, especially student who’d like to get some dirt on their hands and good nutrients in their body!

Here’s some pictures of Colleens…


Happy Peas! ImageImageImage


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Bees and Green Acres – it’s the place to be – 5.15.13

Last night’s talk with Karl Kates was great! He mostly gave a good overview of what it means to be a Holistic Bee keeper. He was introduced to beekeeping by 10 year old son. His son, very ill, had read up on the benefits of honey, so he presented the idea to Karl and it has unfolded in a beautiful way.

The moral intent that he puts into his bee work is pretty unique. Karl says that on his journey he’d looked at every aspect of what kind of bee keeper he didn’t want to be, but when it came down to understand what kind of bee keeper he did want to be it led him on a search. “Am I a Natural Bee Keeper? What does Natural mean? Natural is defined as ‘Existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.’ ” He explained that this wasn’t what he embodied, nor did he feel he embodied an Organic Bee Keeper. Organic – ‘pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.’ These labels imply natural settings, derived by nature which the bees would have made and maintained themselves. When Karl stumbled upon the concept of Holistic Bee Keeping, he decided that was it. From hearing him talk about the symbology he sees in every interaction he has with bees, I must agree that this is a perfect classification of what he does.

When Karl is making a bee box (home for the bees) he takes in to consideration as many aspects as he possibly can in order to make the bees happy, healthy and thriving. For instance, he has learned the frequency at which bees buzz, and has began building homes which support this frequency. He also looks very in depth at the surrounding environment the bees live in. He is bar none an advocate for bee sanctuaries, planting an abundance of plants that will help the bees thrive most beneficially.

All in all Karl’s talk was very inspiring. It made me think about human health in relation to environment, as well as the different classifications of “Natural” and “Organic” foods that are on the market. I think it comes down to see every thing as sacred. When we understand that there is life behind everything and we learn to interact with our surrounding in the same manner we would interact with our selves, or our mother!, the product of these actions will be much more fulfilling and vital.

~~~ Thanks Karl!


Today we went to the Abundance Ecovilliage just north of campus and visiting our teacher (Stacy Maurer)’s home and land! We checked out the operations she has in and around her greenhouse, herb garden, root cellar, composting (on site humanure), and tree crops. We also traveled just down the road from her place and checked out the Havelka’s neighboring land. There they have a few gardens, tons of chickens, roosters and ducks, 5 acres of Chestnut trees and maybe just under a half acre of asparagus. They’ve got solar and wind power and live split between a “hobit house” and another Tiny House.

Enjoy the pictures of these adventures! If only camera could capture the full beauty..

~The Havelkas~

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Stacy’s Place!

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What is Organic Agriculture? 5.14.13

As with most everything in life, there are layers when it comes to evaluating what defines Organic Agriculture. According to the NOSB Organic Agrictulture is, “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.” The NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) is an advisory panel for the USDA. Their definition is what drives the regulations of USDA Certified Organic produce. These regulations for USDA Cert Organic farmers consist of: Crop rotation (for plant nutrients, erosion control, soil nutrients), Intercropping, biological pest control, mulching, and use of techniques to enhance habitats for beneficial species and erosion control. They are to follow the guidelines of; biodiversity of crops, natural plant nutrition, natural pest management, biodiversity and sustainability (which by our definition at MUM should be implied if your farming practices flow with the harmony of nature).

The issue that I’m seeing with Organic Agriculture is that although it promotes positive practices, it is still an industry. When something gains a powerful momentum such as Organic Ag has, there is bound to be lines that are blurred and marketing to be had. There is also a disconnect between the producer and the consumer. When there isn’t that added value of personal trust and moral agreement what is being dished out and what is being purchased isn’t always congruent.

So I guess the question to ask is – How conscious of your consuming do you want to be in order to honor your health and happiness in life?

Even going to a random tent at a Farmer’s Market may defy how you would treat your body, if you took the time to get to know the farmer and his methods. I realize that this is a very in depth task for many, to really get intimate with their own health and physiology and understand how the myriad of possibilities behind our food systems can help or harm their well being. So in this case, if buying USDA Organic Certified is what seems the most understandable then that is great and it is always better than Conventionally farmed produce. What I urge you to do is not get complacent in life. Always be inspired to learn the process behind life’s intricacies! We’re here to experience this world, so why not continue exploring that – and aide our chances at vital, youthful health while we’re at it.

That’s all I have to say on Organic Agriculture today… Now I’m off to a presentation by Karl Kates – who I call the “bee whisperer”- on Holistic Bee Keeping!

An ode to the Beeees: 

[good summary info and an example of what MUM SL students are aiming to create]

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Grains and Tea 5.13.13

This morning fueled up MUMs biodiesel shuttle and shimmied on out to Nelson Smith’s farmland. He’s located just 20 minutes outside Fairfield on 1000 acres of land bordered by the Brinton Timber preserve. He intermixes organic crops of rye, buckwheat, soy, oats, corn and beans. Due to Iowa’s dramatic weather, it is only conducive to plan during very specific times of year. Therefore when it is time to plant, the alternating crops will often be sown before the current crop is harvested.

Nelson also has cattle and bee hives. His wife, who also works as Certified Organic Inspector, is typically the bee steward. They seem to have a very intimate relationship with eery aspect of the farm. Nelson’s father ran the farm, passing it on to him. For years Nelson was working Firefighting shifts in Wisconsin while managing the farm. It blows my mind that between him, his wife, their dog Jane, and their neighbor they are able to manage this amount of work. This farmer is the real deal!

We were talking today about how although he technically grows organically certified corn, the chances of any corn grown in an area such being 100% organic are rather slim due to cross pollinate. With the tight harvesting schedule farmers have in Iowa, most are producing corn at similar times. He says you can see a cloud of pollen in the air at this time of the season and it is more than likely that some conventional or organic corn crops will cross pollinate under these conditions. On the upside there’s a new corn hybrid on the market that is not susceptible to GMO pollination! I don’t know about you but that sounds a little off to me…

After we left Nelsons and had lunch we went back to the soil ecology lab on campus. There our compost we began last week was looking pretty good! Our initiative today was to make compost tea. When I say compost tea, it is not your typical healing tea. It’s a tea for your garden and plants, aide in the “good” microbial life and fend off the “bad” microbial life. Some people do drink this tea, but typically it’s not the motivation behind creating the elixir.

Here’s what you need to do in order to make some good compost tea (although there are many different methods):

To start off, you will need to make an inoculate. The purpose of the inoculate is to feed the organisms in the compost, allowing them flourish in a more abundant fashion. The inoculate we made consisted of: Vermipost (with worms removed), garbanzo flour, steel oats, dry old fashion oats, dry algae, fish and humic acid. Covering it with a towel, leave it set on a heat pad for 4 days to stimulate and activate that microbial life!

Once the inoculate is ready you add it to a comparable size of compost. Putting this mixture in a paint sifting bag, you can let it steep in a bin of (preferably) fresh rain water. Allow it to seep for one day, with an aerator in the mix.

You can then remove the aerator and pour your plants some tea! Put the tea into a sprayer or watering bucket and allow the tea to gently saturate your plants foliage.

Again, there are many different ways of making compost tea. This is how we practiced the process today.

*You can also make a compost extract which you apply to the soil. This is done by bagging pure compost and squishing the it into a desired amount of water, then sprinkling it into the soil surrounding your plants.

That’s all for now… Enjoy some pictures of today…

Nelsons farm

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There’s Lucy (cutest farm dog ever) ~>2013-05-13 11.08.31

Compost Tea… mixture and brewer…

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