June 2011


FREE CONTEST!!!

I was going to do this contest for Father’s Day but got busy so now it is an Independence Day Contest! The rules are simple.:
1. The first one to guess what kind of fruit tree this is, wins it.
2. You must post your guess on our Facebook page.
3. Only one guess per post (don’t throw up a huge list hoping it is on it).
4. You can post as many times as you want.
5. Winner must pick up at the farm (no shipping).

Contest ends July 4th if there is no winner then I get it !  Click  this Link to Facebook page here

Earlier we had a post on growing small shade loving plants out in full New Mexico sun.  Our method seems fine for adapting a full-sun plant to our climate, but what about a plant that loves shade?  I think the bottomless bucket will buy us a years time but after that we will need to have a more permanent solution.

The solution we are going to try is another plant.  We already have posts installed at the row ends. All we will do is put on a cross bar about 4-5 foot high and string wires between the now “T” posts so that it will look like a clothes line.  At the base of each post we will plant 1 hops vine.  Yes, the same hops as is used to make beer. These grow tremendously fast and by their second year I expect them to provide the needed shade.  Their scientific name Humulus lupulus roughly translates into wolf vine for their habit of “wolfing” or covering other plants.

Having grown these in the past, I know it takes a year to get them established.  The second and succeeding years they explode!  Twenty five to thirty foot of growth is not uncommon.  And they grow fast.  They will grow between 12″ and 20” per week!  When winter comes and they freeze, the vine dies back to the ground.  Next spring they shoot up again from the roots to start all over!  I have had them grow up trees to the top and upward is the normal path they want to take.  It remains to be seen if we can get them to grow in a horizontal position. 

We have grapes to make wine and now we are on the path to self-sufficiency in making beer also!

A great link that takes you to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Survey Page.  95% of the counties in the US are in their database.  It is interactive and allows you to get an amazing amount of information. Area of Interest tab - Click to close Then you can print it all out in a professional report.  You use the “shopping cart ” feature for this but don’t worry there is no cost and no info required from you

http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm

   First take an unsuspecting little plant, a foreigner that is probably native to a shaded woods edge, greenhouse grown in a 2 ½” container.  Plant it out in a field in New Mexico’s high UV rays and add a good dose of almost constant 20-40 mph wind for 2-3 months.  Give it snow one day and 85 degree weather 2 days later, varying between freezing at night and full sunny hot days and you have successfully entered the unseemly world of plant abuse.  Many of us have become serial abusers.  Not only have we done this before, but we continue to do this again and again.

  Our goal at Road’s End Farm is to develop fruit varieties that you can be successful with in our climate.  We want you to be able to plant it out with the minimum of environmental adjustment.  Many plants can’t take the shock of the scenario we played above and live, but they would have if they were slowly acclimated to our climate.  All of the varieties we sell are already acclimated and ready for you to plant here.

Often we receive rare plants for trial and breeding purposes that are small or “plugs” as they are known in the trade.   Finding a consistent and economical way to keep these experimental plants not only alive but thriving in a farm situation has been a constant challenge.  An example would be 3 varieties of haskap we received from Saskatchewan, Canada in May.  A more different climate I can’t imagine.

Last year we had 2 of these that were grown in the USA and were larger and stronger plants (a  good 1 gallon size).    These are an understory plant in their native environment and like just  part day sun.  We attempted several tries and styles of keeping a shadecloth over them.  Hemming, grommeting, reinforcing with wire, anything we tried could not stand up to our spring winds. After once and sometimes twice daily repair we finally were forced to give up.  But this year we may have found a simple solution.

The same 2 plants were used as an experiment.  One had died down to only a little twig about 5” high.  Miraculously it reappeared this spring, the other one I was sure was dead.  To my surprise 2 weeks later I found one leaf of green where it used to be, no stems, just a leaf popping out of the ground approximately the size of a squirrel’s ear.

Our experiment is actually pretty simple and inexpensive.  We obtained a few 5 gallon white plastic buckets from 2 local restaurants as a donation to our cause.  Russell then cut the bottoms out so we have about a 16” high white plastic tunnel about 12” in diameter.  This was put over the plant and a piece of rebar driven into the ground on the upwind side to hold it.  Direct sunlight can only come in from right above about 3 or 4 hours per day.  Being white and translucent though, the interior stays bright with diffuse light.  The wind is kept off the plant.  The soil stays moist and it develops a more humid little micro environment. The bucket helps to hold some heat in and around the immediate area of the plant which surely helped with the cold snaps this spring in May.

Now the plant can grow up and out of the tunnel, slowly acclimate and harden itself off to the “outside” world and adapt instead of dying.  The experiment seems so far to be a tremendous success.  The price is right and they do not blow away in the wind!  Last year’s 2 plants have not only survived, they have thrived and look totally different in both color and leaf shape.  We are trying this on some smaller plants with black nursery containers.  These provide a dark shade and I am not sure it will work well but we will keep you posted.Honeyberry row with 5 g buckets for cover

The Organic Farming movement while thought of as new or a fringe element in agriculture is really the old and standard way most of our food was grown prior to the mid 1900’s.  Terms can be confusing because Organic farming truly is “conventional farming”.  What we do today is not.  What we do today can be more appropriately called Industrial farming.  Humans have been farming for 10,000 years. Sixty years ago, after World War II, we started industrializing U.S. farming operations through a mix of policy decisions and accidents of history.

Since the advent of inexpensive petro-chemicals we have gone from farming being a Biological process to an Industrial process.  Industrial agriculture treats the farm as a factory, with “inputs” (pesticides, fertilizers) and “outputs” (crops). The end-objective is increasing the yields while controlling costs — usually by using economies of scale (i.e. making a lot of one thing, or “monocropping”), and by replacing manual labor with machines and petro-chemicals like modern pesticides and fertilizers.

This model of farming is inefficient and does not represent the cutting edge of modern farming.  In 1940, we produced 2.3 food calories for every 1 fossil fuel calorie used. By industrializing our food and farming systems, we now get 1 food calorie for every 10 fossil fuel calories used — a 23 fold reduction in efficiency.  Following this path we have become dependent on cheap, abundant oil, and on quick chemical “fixes” for agro-ecosystem challenges that are complicated and require deep, local and hands-on knowledge. In relying on chemical inputs, we have un-learned how to farm. 

Enough of the soapbox, lets look at some specific reasons why Organic food currently costs more than Industrial produced food.

Organic farming is all about improving the soil and increasing its organic matter content thus improving the soil food web.

Soil Quality and Land Use

Industrial ag and “monoculture” works with economy of scale, growing lots of a single crop on a farm or field.  Organic farming requires that diversity be maintained and that a variety of crops be grown for soil health and insect health therefore that economy of scale is lost.

  1. Soil quality is improved by the addition of composts which are more labor intensive to apply and costlier to purchase or manufacture than commercial N-P-K fertilizers.
  2. Instead of the land being plowed after harvest and left bare for soil erosion, cover crops are grown and these are turned into the soil to improve it.  So this amount of growing does not result in a direct cash sale but does incur expenses.
  3. Crop rotation is an important aspect with anywhere from 10-50% of the land on an organic operation not being used to grow crops in a given season.
  4. Biodiversity is a requirement and takes a percentage of land permanently out of “production” and put into the form of windbreaks and hedgerows. In our case currently about 25% of land space is for conservation purposes.
  5. You are required to have buffer zones to keep neighbors possible “drift” away from your crops. This takes a substantial amount of land out of production.

To improve the quality of the land means using a smaller portion of it and also improving with conservation methods those set aside areas.  Obviously the lack of percentage land use puts the Organic farmer at a cost disadvantage.

Insect and Weed Control

  1. Synthetic pesticide use is not allowed in certified operations.  The first step is developing an environment that is in balance as much as possible.  This means attracting beneficial and predatory insects and other species such as birds to control the insect pest population.
  2. Secondly physical barriers may be used such as floating row covers which are like a fine cloth sheet that is put over crop rows to exclude insect pests.
  3. Natural methods such as companion cropping, onions with peas, marigolds with other vegetables etc can be used to help prevent large populations of insect pests.
  4. Manual removal of “bad” bugs, while tedious, may be employed and often must be used to be successful.
  5. Lures, traps and mating disruptions are methods also used to control insect pests instead of a cheap chemical pesticide.
  6. Weeds can be eliminated only by mechanical and physical methods, usually expensive hand labor.
  7. Timing of planting crops is also used to minimize weed impacts.  While weeds often are the most attractive to beneficial insects you must balance the detriments to the crop being grown.
  8. Rotating crops and organic mulches are also used to prevent weed growth

As you can see the Organic Farmer must be way ahead in thinking and planning how to combat or primarily prevent a problem since he isn’t able to just pick up a can of pesticide or herbicide if a problem appears.  The tools which he can use are inherently more expensive than those of the Industrial Farmer and do not guarantee success.

Processing and Transportation

The costs do not end at the farm.  The food must be transported in organically approved containers and in vehicles dedicated solely to organic product.  The tools, containers, vehicles must all be sanitized with approved products. There can be no commingling of product in transportation or of facilities for holding the produce.  A facility which processes the product, for example cans green chili, must also be certified as an organic processor with a strict list of does and don’ts and cannot be used for processing standard produce at the same time.

Paperwork, record keeping and regulation compliance

To be a certified organic producer you must reapply every year.  In New Mexico the cost is minimal.  For us it is $200.00 per year and a percentage of your sales just to apply. It is not refundable if you are turned down. The application is lengthy and describes all details of your operation and operational plans.  Many days are spent just completing the application forms.  You must be available for inspection anytime 365 days per year.  For every item that you purchase must keep not only the receipt but the package label for 5 years.  Every thing that you do, whether it is planting a row of carrots or adding a shovel of compost on a tree must be documented in a field activity log.   All of this paperwork and recordkeeping must be available for inspection. For our small operation this requires two full 3 ring binders along with 2 other binders for labels per year. You will have annual site inspections at a minimum and are subject to soil and tissue testing and analysis to verify you are following the rules.  The seed you plant must itself be certified organic which of course costs more than standard seed.  Time is money and the compliance portion must be figured into overhead like any business.

Government Policies and subsidies

The true cost of a food product is not simply the price for which it is sold. Non-organic food is often influenced by subsidies and other national or regional support schemes. According to the House Appropriations Committee, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion in 2008, compared with $15 million for programs for organic and local foods.

Retailers pricing 

Grocery stores are all about profit per square foot and shelf facings. They need to make the same amount of money if they devote space to organics that they would on a standard product.  If the organic product moves slower or has less “turns” then they need to get a higher profit margin to compensate.  So often these products are priced higher than they should be because that is the nature of corporate retail.

 This article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the costs of Organic growing versus Industrial agriculture.  We are seeing prices on organics drop as supply and demand both increase.  However, when you take into account the true “cost” of food production from conventional farming, including replacement of eroded soils, cleaning up polluted water, health care for farmers who get sick, and environmental costs of pesticide production and disposal, organic farming might actually be cheaper in the end.

    Remember, This logo is your proof of Certified Organic products

 

One of the unusual varieties of fruit that we are trying to develop as a crop for our climate is the pomegranate.  It has been cultivated in the Caucasus since ancient times, and today, is grown throughout Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Egypt, China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the drier parts of southeast Asia, the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe, and tropical Africa.  Many of these countries have areas with a climate similar to ours eg:  Long hot, dry summers and cold winters.  Our premise is that even though the commercial production in the USA is limited to California and parts of southern Arizona the fruit is much hardier than it is given credit for and the right varieties or crosses could be grown here.

What do we base that premise on?

  1. A new commercial orchard in the Alamogordo area planted the variety Wonderful which is not considered one of the hardier varieties.  This spring after reaching below 8 degrees in February they reported that they had die back on the branches but had green in the first 6 inches and the plants all appeared alive.  These plants were 1 year when planted in the spring of 2010 so they were very young and not well established.
  2. A tree in Rio Rancho that has had fruit every year for the last 10 years I have watched it.
  3. In the Middle East and Russia, hardiness is prized over flavor and production  in their agricultural programs or just in selecting which varieties to plant. We will probably find the germplasm we are looking for in this area.
  4. A lone plant 9” tall, that we put in last year that struggled just to stay alive in our hot sun and wind has appeared from the roots this year.  Again this winter’s cold arguably -30 or so at the farm was the coldest in 40 years or more.  If we got it through that cold we can get it through a normal winter.

The next reason to choose pomegranates is recent findings of health benefits will make this an “in demand” fruit crop.

As stated on the Pomegranate Fruit website:
Pomegranates are not only delicious and beautiful, they’re also one of the most nutritious fruits you can eat.

High in vitamin C and potassium, a good source of fiber and low in calories.
Pomegranate juice is high in three different types of polyphenols, a potent form of antioxidants. The three types – tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid – are present in many fruits, but pomegranate juice contains particularly high amounts of all three. As antioxidants, they are credited with helping in the prevention of cancer and heart disease.

So, whether you crunch fresh pomegranate seeds or drink the juice, feel guilt-free as you enjoy each delicious mouthful- you’re doing your body a favor!

The third reason for us is actual culture of the plants.  They like hot, dry climates. They tolerate a high ph and low fertility. They are drought tolerant once established.  All of that describes traits that we need in a plant for New Mexico.

The fourth reason is the pomegranate is a very ancient fruit, mentioned in the Homeric Hymns and the Book of Exodus.  Doesn’t sound like we can go wrong there.

We have found that many fruits and plants can be extended beyond the “recommended” range or zone and often that’s what we do.  Most books and articles are just copying what has been written before without anyone except a few dedicated hobbyists actually experimenting to see where the limit really is.  Perhaps a little extra care in the winter, maybe covering with a tarp or straw will allow you to have a taste of the tropics at your fingertips.

We have currently planted 9 varieties to trial and expect to have some good results within 2 years.

Organic products meet stringent standards – Organic certification is the public’s assurance that products have been grown and handled according to strict procedures without persistent toxic chemical inputs.

Organic food tastes great! – It’s common sense – well-balanced soils produce strong, healthy plants that become nourishing food for people and animals.

Organic production reduces health risks – Many pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. Organic agriculture is one way to prevent any more of these chemicals from getting into the air, earth and water that sustain us.

Organic farms respect our water resources – The elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, done in combination with soil building, protects and conserves water resources.

Organic farmers build healthy soil – Soil is the foundation of the food chain. The primary focus of organic farming is to use practices that build healthy soils.

Organic farmers work in harmony with nature – Organic agriculture respects the balance demanded of a healthy ecosystem: wildlife is encouraged by including forage crops in rotation and by retaining fence rows, wetlands, and other natural areas.

Organic producers are leaders in innovative research – Organic farmers have led the way, largely at their own expense, with innovative on-farm research aimed at reducing pesticide use and minimizing agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Organic producers strive to preserve diversity – The loss of a large variety of species (biodiversity) is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. The good news is that many organic farmers and gardeners have been collecting and preserving seeds, and growing unusual varieties for decades.

Organic farming helps keep rural communities healthy – Organic agriculture can be a lifeline for small farms because it offers an alternative market where sellers can command fair prices for crops.

Organic abundance – Foods and non-foods alike! – Now every food category has an organic alternative. And nonfood agricultural products are being grown organically – even cotton, which most experts felt could not be grown this way.

In short, organic agriculture is better for the earth, better for people and animals, and better for you.