Organic


With our last post we showed some older pictures from planting pecan seed in April. Now that we  are  almost in July, they are starting to emerge.   I think its a good idea to become familiar with how a pecan seed germinates and grows in its natural environment. At left is a photo of a germinated pecan. To germinate, the seed must first imbibe enough water to swell the kernel and crack open the shell.  As the seed starts to grow, a vigorous tap root is the first structure formed. Shortly thereafter, a smaller, wiry shoot develops and grows upwards, poking through the soil surface. In nature, a new pecan seedling will invest most of it energy in growing a massive, deep tap root. Above ground, first-year pecan trees rarely grow more than  8-12 inches in height and produce only a hand full of  leaves. This growth pattern is the tree’s way of ensuring seedling survival. Between fires, floods, grazing animals and brush hogging, seedling pecan trees often lose above ground parts. By storing a massive amount of plant energy in the tap root, a pecan tree can easily replace a lost top with a new sprout.

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees

Pecan

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Saturday was a good working day at the farm. Warm temperatures and light wind.  Our primary goal this week ( also last and next week) was to dig up field grown trees, prune and pot them up in 5 gal containers for sale this spring and summer.  It is slow and methodical with each person filling a specific role.  One person gets the pots ready and puts on 2 labels with the variety name, 2 people dig, another person plants into the 5 gal. container, the final tag goes onto the tree itself, then they are put in the nusery and watered good, after that they are hooked up to the drip system.  We pay special attention to tagging and labeling since many of these are one of a kind.  Duplication of tags and labels helps since often one may come off during the season. By using a 3 part ID system in addition to computerized location maps, we are always sure of what type it is. In our minds, nothing would be worse for a customer than to grow a tree several years and find out it isn’t what you thought you had.  Mistakes are often made like this at nurseries, but we do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen at ours.

Watering a week before makes digging much easier and better for the trees

Watering a week before makes digging much easier and better for the trees

Digging up young fruit trees requires different shovels types

Digging up young fruit trees requires different shovels types

Our custom potting mix is used for these trees

Our custom potting mix is used for these trees

Loaded 1 at a time in the wagons for trip to the nursery area

Loaded 1 at a time in the wagons for trip to the nursery area

 

 

Most people will want to sample their garden or orchard area and these guidelines are for small areas

Soil Sampling Instructions.

1. Several different tools – such as an auger, a soil sampling tube, or a spade may be used in taking soil samples.

2. Scrape away surface litter. If an auger or soil sampling tube is used, obtain a small portion of soil by making a boring about 7 inches deep, or if plowing or tilling deeper, sample to tillage depth. If a tool such as a spade is used, dig a V-shaped hole to sample depth; then cut a thin slice of soil from one side of the hole.

3. Avoid areas or conditions that are different, such as areas where fertilizer or liming materials have been spilled, gate areas where livestock have congregated, poorly drained areas, dead furrows, tillage or fertilizer corners, or fertilizer band areas of last year’s crop. Only sample growing areas, not roads or other areas of activity.
4. Because of soil variations, it is necessary that each sample consist of small portions of soil obtained from approximately 6-8 locations in the soil area. After obtaining these portions of soil, mix them together for a representative sample. Dry samples and place 16 oz. (2 cups) of soil in a soil sample bag or Zip Loc bag.

5. Soil sample depth is dependent on crop type. Our vegetable garden, since shallow rooted, is sampled at 5”, berries 6” and trees 8-10” since these depths are more indicative of the root growing zone.

6. It is important to not contaminate the samples by allowing surface debris or soil to fall into the hole where samples are gathered.

Types of Sample testing can be customized to give you results in lbs per acre, lbs per 1,000 sq ft, parts per million, Kilograms per hectare. We find lbs per 1K sq ft the easiest to work with. If I were testing a 40 acre field I would use the pounds per acre.

Standard Soil Test:

This test will show Ph, major minerals, minor minerals and some trace elements, total exchange capacity and organic matter content.  Note this differs from the basic NPK test offered by some state ag colleges because of the type test we request and use.   This will show you the total content in your sample.

Paste Soil Test:

The saturated paste test shows what nutrients are immediately available in the soil’s water solution.  These are the easy access nutrients for plants, so this test better predicts what nutrients (and how many) will get into the plant.  This will show ph, major and minor minerals and their availability.

What is the real difference in the two tests?  The easiest way to think of it is the standard test as the soil’s “savings account” and the saturated paste test as the soil’s “checking account”.  Both show nutrients that are accessible, but the checking account nutrients are more easily available.

An example we have is that each spring we face iron chlorosis in strawberries. Iron chlorosis is a yellowing of plant leaves caused by iron deficiency.  It frequently occurs in soils that are alkaline (pH greater than 7.0) and that contain lime; conditions that are common in New Mexico. Even though we have plenty of iron in our soil, the high soil pH causes chemical reactions that make the iron solid and unavailable to plant roots. Such iron will be tied up indefinitely unless soil conditions change to lower the ph.

I recommend doing both tests to give a bigger picture, but if you can only do one then a Paste test will give you items to work on immediately.

These are the basic tests we use.  Of course you can go more I depth and get particulate type tests showing percent of clay, sand, loam and organic matter or individual tests for specific minerals.  Before I do those I would get a quality water test.  It stands to reason, for example, if you are trying to lower your soil ph but constantly adding high ph irrigation water that you need to calculate this into your equations.

One of our farm goals is to produce the healthiest and most nutritious food we can for our families. This is one of the reasons we chose to apply and become USDA Certified Organic.   But does this certification mean our fruits, berries and vegetables are healthier and more nutrient dense than those raised by conventional means?  I think the answer is both yes and no.  In terms of “healthy” there is no doubt that foods grown without conventional pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers are “healthier” for you.  In terms of nutrition though, that can be debatable. It stands to reason that a crop grown organically on poor, nutrient deficient soil will not provide more vitamins, minerals etc. than a conventionally grown crop in soil that is more complete in minerals and micro biotic life.

The foundation of “Organics” is building a healthier, more balanced soil and to that end I think the average crop  grown on organic soil will be more nutritious than those grown conventionally.  Remember that organic production does not guarantee good soil building.  I know of one large organic farm that I toured a few years ago that had no real soil building program.  When I asked what they did to increase fertility, their answer was to add blood meal between crop cycles. Blood meal is an organic approved source of nitrogen but very little else. In essence they were just adding a shot of nitrogen to cover the reason that their crops were not as good as they should be. In my opinion this is not soil building, it is conventional growing substituting “organic” nitrogen for chemically derived nitrogen.

The modern “Organic’ movement has three large groups or methods within it and all are approved by USDA.  The most notable is the method following the Rodale principles of organic growing developed and refined by J. I. Rodale.   This utilizes an emphasis on compost, crop rotation and cover cropping (or green manures) to improve soil quality.  Another branch is the group which promotes optimal mineralization developed by William Albrecht.  It seeks that optimal nutrition is based primarily on ratios of minerals and quantity of these including trace elements. Restoring a balance in these and that excesses can be as bad as deficiencies.  The third is the BioDynamic movement.  Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include its treatment of animals, crops, and soil as a single system; an emphasis from its beginnings on local production and distribution systems; its use of traditional and development of new local breeds and varieties; and the use of an astrological sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamic agriculture uses various herbal and mineral additives for compost additives and field sprays; these are sometimes prepared by controversial methods, such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest “cosmic forces in the soil”, that are more akin to sympathetic magic than agronomy.

There are as many facets to organic growing as there are farmers.  Many gardeners both amateur and professional combine parts of all of these methods and also utilize others such as no-till farming and carbon restoration by use of bio-char.  Our approach and philosophies combine some of both Rodale and Albrecht practices. While Rodale promotes compost as a panacea, we feel this isn’t enough.  If your location is deficient in something, using on-farm generated compost will just perpetuate the situation.  It may benefit soil tilth and microbial activity and this may improve your growth, but not make your food more nutritious.

We know where we want to end up: with the best soil and most complete balance of major, minor and trace elements possible combined with the correct microbes to utilize and convert these elements to plant useable products. But how do we get there?  First you must know where you are before you can map directions to your destinantion. If you want to end up in New York, it is almost impossible to get there if you don’t know where you are to start with.  Go north, east, west, south?  Closed roads, washed out bridges, construction etc.  What to do?  Any approach you take is just a guess and any solutions you add will be just luck if they get you there.   So logic dictates we must first determine where we are and this is one of the purposes of a soil test.    Continued …….

Commercial apples are sprayed anywhere from 10 to as many as 25 times in a growing season to bring that picture perfect fruit to market.  They are sprayed with toxic chemicals for prevention of early fungus, scab and viral disease, often sprayed with antibiotics to prevent fireblight and other bacterial infections, sprayed to promote thinning of the small apples, sprayed for control of coddling moth and other pests and on and on.  They are harvested green, put in cold storage and then given ethylene gas to promote artificial ripening. Many people will tell you just to wash them before you eat them or peel the skin off before eating (where most of the nutrients are) and you will get rid of any chemical residues.  I have a hard time believing that all these chemicals when combined and added up are really safe for us.

So what is an organic grower to do?  In many ways we are lucky to be inNew Mexico as most of the disease issues of fruits are related and cultivated in humid climates.  Our dry air and high UV is a natural inhibitor to many disease problems. Cedar apple rust and scab, 2 of the biggest problems are not found inNew Mexico.

The two largest pest issues (aside from birds and rodents) are the apple coddling moth and the apple maggot.   The apple maggot is just being found in a few counties in New Mexico and has not yet reached critical levels.  While you could use an “organic” pesticide such as rotenone, it is still a highly toxic poison. As with most pesticides they are non selective and will kill off beneficial insects as well as the “bad guys”

At this point we have adopted two solutions.  One is the use of a product named “Surround”

Made from modified kaolin clay, Surround® t is sprayed on as a liquid, which evaporates leaving a protective powdery film on the surfaces of

After spraying with Surround

leaves, stems and fruit. It controls a long list of insect pests on vegetables, fruit trees, ornamentals and more and is OMRI Listed for use in organic production. It is mixed about 2 cups per gallon of water and can be applied with a hand sprayer if you only want to do a few trees, or with a standard chemical sprayer for more.  Recommended application is 2 “coats” the second shortly after the first has dried.  It will need to be reapplied during the season as strong rains may wash it off.

Surround® works to protect plants and deter insects in three specific ways:

1.) Tiny particles of the kaolin clay attach to insects when they contact it, agitating and repelling them and possibly clogging their breathing pores.

2.) Even if the particles do NOT attach to their bodies, the insects find the coated plant/ fruit unsuitable for feeding and egg-laying. It just doesn’t look like a red apple any more! It is also thought that the light reflection from the white surface disorients the coddling moth especially.

3.) The protective white film cools plants by up to 15° Fahrenheit, which can help to reduce heat and water stress. Many fruits show improved color, smoothness and size with less russet, dropping, sunburn and cracking.  This in turn makes a stronger and healthier fruit and tree.

The second strategy is the use of apple maggot control bags.  These are a small bag that can be put over your apple and easily held on with a rubber band.  They are from a material similar to panty hose and stretch as the apple grows.  They allow sunlight, and water penetration and can be reused.  This is an effective barrier control method, preventing insects from laying eggs in the apples.  They also have an effect on birds which now ignore them.   Applying apple maggot control bags.

Both strategies should be started when your apples are about nickel size.

What:    Fruiting Tree and Plants Fundraiser For Youth Group
Where:  wood’sEnd Church Parking lot  in Edgewood
When:   This Saturday June 2nd, from 8:00 am until 1:00 pm.
Why:     Help raise money to send young kids to summer camp
 
This year we are taking our plants off farm for one day and offering them to the public.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the wood’sEnd Church Summer Youth Camp Program.  Trees and plants will be available in the wood’sEnd Church parking lot this Saturday morning, June 2nd.  wood’sEnd Church is located in Edgewood on the west side of Highway 344 just north and across the street from Wal-Mart and south of the library.  So tell your friends and spread the word for a good cause in our community! 

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

 

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