Saturday, November 29, 2008


Roll Tide!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

ASAN Conference

Nothing of note took place on the farm this week, except that the goats got out. Smokestack did a great job of keeping everything going while I was at the 6th Annual Organic Production Conference, hosted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN). The conference will be the subject of my post this week instead of Farm Friday.

I rode to the conference with Josh and another sustainable farmer whose farm is only 20 miles from me, but whom I had never met. We had great conversations on the way down and back, ranging from greenhouses to grassfed beef to Christian ecology.

I found that the most helpful part of the conference was the networking. I met and talked to many sustainable farmers from Alabama, all of whom were encouraging and imparted some wisdom. The food served was all local, and we had shrimp, roast beef, sausage, chicken salad, herb bread, biscuits, cider, and more. It was great.

Many of the sessions would not apply to my gardener friends, but I'm copying everything from my notes that I think would be helpful.

The first session I attended was also the most helpful: Pest and Disease Control
  • A good 1 season crop rotation:cover crop>potatoes>green beans>brassica>cover crop. This could be done on a small scale.
  • The speaker got a Reams' test from International Ag Labs to determine what to do for his soil, after a season filled with bugs and disease. He followed their recommendations and saw massive improvement in just one season.
  • He plants his summer crops (tomatoes, squash, eggplant, etc.) in his best soil.
  • Calcium is extremely important for plant immune health.
  • Both speakers really liked green manures for growing your own nitrogen and organic matter. Animal manure from an unknown source can cause problems
  • Maxicrop is a seaweed foliar fertilizer that one of the speakers used to prevent disease in crops growing in somewhat improved soil.
  • Wasps love to eat cabbage worms.
  • A new organic approved plant-based insecticide for fire ants, called Entrust, is supposed to work well. As always, any poison- even if it is approved for certified organic growers- should be used as a last resort when absolutely necessary.
  • Long rotations between crops are necessary to prevent pest and disease buildup. The longer the better.
  • Some herbs and flowers attract beneficial insects, such as echinacea, rosemary, basil, dill, and cilantro.
  • Most weeds, particularly bermudagrass, can be killed by discing in the fall to expose the roots to freezing temperatures. This takes years.
  • Neem oil and compost tea can be sprayed on cucurbits (cukes, squashes, melons) to prevent powdery mildew. I had a lot of trouble with that this year.
  • Compost tea can be made by mixing 1 pound of compost in a five gallon bucket full of water. Then place an aquarium aerator in the bottom of the bucket to aerate the mixture for 72 hours. Then strain and spray.
  • Powdery mildew can be treated with a mixture of 3 Tbsp baking soda, 1 tsp soap, and 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in 5 gallons of warm water.
  • Bordeaux mixture is useful in preventing most diseases. Bordeaux mix can be bought at online garden supply stores, but there's a chance that Meyer's might carry it.
  • Buckwheat makes a great, quick cover crop, only taking 30 days to grow.
  • BT's (Bacillus Thuringiensis) are a beneficial bacteria which can be used to control disease
  • Resources:; Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw; Insect, Disease, and Weed I.D. Guide by Jill Cebenko and Deborah Martin; The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Barbara Ellis and Fern Bradley

I have just a little garden-relevant information concerning Small Fruit Production.

  • Mr. Rod Havens, owner of Blueberry Havens, a farm north of Auburn, has grown blueberries in soil that a pine tree would barely grow in. That is, blueberries don't require much in the way of soil quality.
  • The best time to plant blueberries is after Thanksgiving. The long winter rains help set the plant.

Now for a very interesting crop which anyone can grow: Mushrooms

  • Mushrooms grow in logs. Logs should be from a live tree (until you cut it, anyway). Cut each log to 30". Oak is the best wood, and the logs should be from 3" to 8" in diameter.
  • Soak these logs in water for 2 days, then drill holes 6" apart along the log and 2" apart around the log, in a diamond pattern
  • Mushroom spawn can be obtained from I believe shitaake is supposed to be the easiest to grow.
  • If using loose spawn, measure the proper amount into the hole and seal with cheesewax. Seal the ends of the logs and any blemishes in cheesewax as well.
  • If using plug spawn, insert the tube and cap with the styrofoam end.
  • Keep the logs in the shade and keep moist, stacked in layers facing opposite directions. The logs can be covered with burlap to make watering less necessary. The logs will fruit in about nine months if proper moisture is maintained, and then will continue to fruit periodically for 3 years.
  • When the logs show signs of fruiting, lay them out by leaning them up against a vertical surface.

Other than a few miscellaneous ideas, that is all that applies to gardening. I really hope to attend a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (Southern SAWG) Conference in January, which will be larger and have much more information. In addition, I hope to continue working with the other sustainable farmers I met this week.

Have a great weekend,


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fall on the Farm

My favorite season is in full swing, and although the trees here are past their prime, they still maintain some of their autumnal glory. Hunting and trapping seasons are just around the corner, and the cooler temperatures are glorious. We've processed all of the chickens, so now my farm work is mostly bigger projects. :)

When the chickens were still on the pasture, I concentrated them on an area where we intend to grow an old-fashioned colored variety of popcorn next year, among other things. On Thursday I sowed some rye and crimson clover there and in the garden as a green manure.

We also have winter vegetables, mostly greens, planted in the garden. We're trying out a low tunnel model used in France, kind of like a miniature greenhouse. All low tunnels use plastic stretched tight over hoops. This particular idea uses 9 gauge wire for the hoops and twine to secure the plastic. So far it seems to be another reason to dislike France.

Underneath the plastic, we are growing cold-tolerant and cold-loving plants. Since our winters are so mild and our winter sunlight is greater than more northern areas, we hope to be able to grow right through the winter. We're growing:


Leeks- what? You don't see anything? Oh, those didn't come up.
Cabbage (there's also some spinach, but I didn't get a picture)
A Greens Mixture
Turnips (greens and roots, for the rabbits)
More Lettuce (We planted 8 varieties)
And, we have two squash plants that are desperately trying to set fruit.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I'm going to an organic production conference where I hope to meet other sustainable farmers from Alabama, as well as learning about some very good topics ranging from small fruits to field crops.

Oh, and Abigail told me to say hello.

Have a great weekend,