Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Manure Futures

This is an interesting article on the future of manure as fertilizer.

I would like to see a web site that listed local sources of manure so farmers could easily and less expensively use organic fertilizer.

We have a local "honor wagon" that has bags of dried horse manure for a couple of bucks per large bag. Great deal for me, and the people are making a little money off of something they need to get rid of anyway. If there was a manure site it could list these honor wagons too.

in reference to:

"So precious was manure that Chinese farmers stored it in burglarproof containers."
- Why Farmers Are Flocking to Manure | Cornucopia Institute (view on Google Sidewiki)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Best Practices for Your Area

All gardening is local. Duh. So, if you want to be a great gardener, one of the best ways to start is to do what your neighbor does. This list of gardening blogs is broken down by state, so you can see what the gardeners in your area are doing, and make it work for you. If you're in a cold climate, you'll find the parent blog, Cold Climate Gardening, worth the subscription.

One of the things I found by reading local gardening blogs is types of plants that do well in this area, like black seeded Simpson lettuce and some blight-resistant heirloom tomatoes. From Cold Climate Gardening, I've been learning the names of flowers, since before I moved here to the land of rain, I wouldn't water it if I couldn't eat it. And if I didn't water it, I didn't care what it was called.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Mort Mather's Garden Spot

Mort Mather organically gardening at his home in Maine.

Back in 1996, I was contacted by Mort Mather about publishing his organic gardening articles on line. I was just in there cleaning up some things and I got to reading some of the articles. What a treasure! Anyone interested in organic gardening should check out the Garden Spot and read some of Mort's informative articles.

Mort likes to say that the soil is your bank, and you won't be able to make withdrawals unless you make deposits. Of course, the best kind of deposit is compost. This time of year I find myself grabbing bags of cut grass and leaves to add to the pile, so I'll have plenty of compost to add to raised beds in the spring.

"The land is our bank. Making deposits is a high priority."

Mort's also a big fan of worms, as are all of us organic gardeners. This article has a great conversation with a non-organic gardener about the importance of worms in your garden.

In short, Mort's idea is that healthy soil creates healthy plants which are naturally pest and drought resistant. For more on growing healthy plants in healthy soil, spend a little time in the Garden Spot or with Mort's book, Gardening for Independence.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Getting organic matter into the soil

I've started organic gardening, but my soil isn't very good. I have found multiple ways of getting organic matter into my soil, but my garden is huge 50' x 150'. In your opinion what would be the best way to get organic matter into my soil. I have a compost pile, but it is not big enough to support the entire garden. Should I grow a cover crop? Should I layer the garden with green sand fertilizer, manure then hay? My soil has a lot of clay. I have been putting hay and grass around my plants during this season. Any help is appreciated.

Yes, and yes.  Manure, hay (although many people don't like hay because of field grass seeds, I just pull them when they sprout), and compost are all good steps. Get a big delivery of manure and hay, and spread them evenly in layers, hay on top for the winter. But you mention cover crops and that might even be better. Just yesterday I read this article at Cornucopia, which says:

Forage legumes, such as alfalfa and clover in crop rotations can: supply nitrogen for grain crops; increase soil organic matter; improve soil structure and tilth; and
reduce weed pressure. 

 While you're probably not doing grain crops, the idea is the same. If you need organic matter in your soil, which we all do every year, then grow some right there on the spot! Be sure to read up on the specifics, like when to turn the cover crop under. I've never done cover crops, but I suppose that once you turn them, you'll still need manure and mulch to overwinter the site (depending on the harshness of your winter).

I use peat moss to organic up this very limey and clay-like soil here in upstate NY. That may be an expensive proposition for something of your scale, but it works very well. Grass clippings are good too!

Good luck and let me know what you decide!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Time to start hording hay and manure

The only ripe tomatoes I've gotten this year are the cherry kind and I'm already thinking about winter. Maybe it was the 48 degree night we had last week, or maybe it's the old joke from a few posts ago that we have two seasons up here, the 4th of July and winter, but I'm already thinking about bedding this baby down for the winter with layers of manure and hay.

Maybe the fact that I once again planted some things too close together is making me with I had more raised beds, and the winter manure and hay is going to help me make a couple more before the snow gets here. If I could do them now, I could get some fall collard greens, maybe some spinach and peas if the deer don't get them.

Whatever the reason, I've definitely got manure and hay on the mind. The tractor just came through the fields behind us, shooting hay bales into the wagon like the rolled up shirts shot out of cannons (like the ones that killed Maude Flanders, you Simpsons fans). Nothing like the site of a bunch of baled up hay to make me want to un-bale it and protect some fine garden soil.

I still have some green sand fertilizer, too, which must be scattered on the ground under the manure layer, which goes under the hay layer, which will go under the snow layer, where it will all lie, protected from the cold, composting away under there for months while I shiver and wonder if I put enough manure down.

For now, I'm content to just wait for the tomatoes I missed so much last year (blight). But when those babies start turning red, I'm going to be turning compost and manure, layering the open spots, planting some fall greens on top, and stock-piling hay to cover it all up with for the winter.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Like Music, Gardening Makes Better Students

What a great story. Nothing helps the planet more than people growing their own food, so teaching youngsters about it makes sense for their future. And learning first hand about science and work is great!

in reference to:

"Pupils should be encouraged to grow vegetables and tend flowerbeds because gardening boosts a child’s development and improve standards in other subjects."
- Gardening ‘Can Boost Literacy and Numeracy’ | Cornucopia Institute (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Another Fact about Organic Agriculture that Will Be Ignored

I've been seeing a lot of studies lately that prove organic is better. This one is especially interesting because pesticides are the worst of the worst when it comes to spraying. Linked to cancers, ADHD, Parkinson's, and many other diseases, pesticides harm agricultural workers and consumers, especially consumers who are children. We all suffer from the petroleum-based agriculture that big business forces on us, and the resultant environmental and health consequences.

As someone who enjoys a relatively pest-free garden even though I hardly work at it at all, this story is vindication. I do plant wild flower and clover borders to attract beneficial insects. I do make sure my soil is healthy so my plants aren't stressed into becoming bug magnets. But that's about it. Evenness, the big point of this article, takes care of the rest!

in reference to:

""Almost all the studies that have been done have looked at the number of species in an ecosystem," says Crowder. "Very few studies have looked at the relative abundance. We think our study is really one of the first to highlight that evenness is also important.""
- Organic farms win at potato pest control : Nature News (view on Google Sidewiki)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Heard a new joke about the weather up here

A warm day today as the 4th approaches reminds me of a joke I heard recently about the weather up here, which has turned me into a year-around cold weather gardener now (lots of greens and peas, although I still try to grow peppers):

They say we have two seasons up here: winter and the 4th of July.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I can certify my own produce

The NY Times reports more problems with organic certification from China (surprise, surprise), this time a case of conflict of interest by the Organic Crop Improvement Association, which used employees of a Chinese government agency to inspect state controlled farms.

As demand for organic food rises, and supplies become more questionable (China, the Bush administration, corrupt corporations, farmers who just lie to get higher prices), the answer is in our own backyards. My organic seeds come from reputable organic companies like Seeds of Change and Johnny's. My soil has never been treated with fumigants (not since I've been living here anyway) or herbicides. My fertilizer is manure from organically fed horses and cows. My plants are never sprayed with synthetic pesticides. In short, my produce is certified organic by the best inspector of all: me.

Home gardening has been growing in popularity very quickly in the last few years. Demand for gardening products is way up. Seed stores often have trouble keeping seeds in stock. People just don't trust the corporate dominated system to deliver organic food, so they're doing it themselves.

A great side effect of this phenomenon (there's even an organic garden at the White House now) is the savings in fuel used to grow and transport food, savings in petroleum used to create pesticides, savings in greenhouse gas emissions from all of the above activity, reduction of emissions by composting instead of throwing food waste in landfills, and a whole host of other beneficial aspects to organic gardening.

Now I have to go find a way to keep the chipmunks from digging up my cilantro seeds (which I grew myself last year). Seems they know organic when they eat it!

in reference to:

"Now serious questions about certification in China have been raised by the United States Agriculture Department. The agency, which uses private groups to conduct most organic inspections worldwide, has banned a leading American inspector from operating in China because of a conflict of interest that strikes at the heart of the organics’ guarantee. The federal agency also plans to send an audit team to China this year to broadly review the certification process."
- U.S. Drops Organic Food Inspector in China - (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

NYT story features our friends and jerky meat suppliers

Our friends Dave and Sonia run Nectar Hills Farm just down the road from us, near Cooperstown, NY. We are members of their CSA, and we make our beef jerky from their grass-fed meat. They also grow terrific produce, have a wild ramp forrest (which is amazing), harvest honey, and many other things (pork, chickens, eggs, ducks, etc.).

They are mentioned in this story about local meat being sold in NY City, at green-markets, farmers markets, and the like. Yes, the meat costs more, but, as we like to say, grass-fed meats are better for you, the animal, and the planet.

There are two photos from Nectar Hills Farm in this story, and even more on their website.

in reference to: Local Meat Is Becoming Easier to Find - (view on Google Sidewiki)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

We were promised transparency

With all the news lately that organic is indeed better for you (and especially better for the planet, including healthy soil working as a carbon sink), it is especially important that this government (the first lady of which is making important strides for organics, local, and fighting childhood obesity) make its oversight of the organic certification process as transparent as possible.

Furthermore, it is essential that the National Organic Standards Board include members who are not representatives of corporate agribusinesses. If we really want people to eat more local food, we need to work to decentralize the food system, and small, local producers should be represented on the board.

The fact that the Obama administration has continued the Bush practice of keeping the nominees to the board secret is simply unacceptable, and further fuels the theory that corporations rule the world. After all, look where government trust of these money-grubbing machines has gotten us.

Eight years of foxes in hen houses has left us with a lot of dead chickens (or pelicans). Especially when it comes to our food--the number one factor in determining our health--we need to be open and fair about regulating what should be a guarantee that our food is healthy and organic.

in reference to:

"“During the Bush administration we saw crass politics, at its worst, in play during the NOSB appointment process,” said Will Fantle, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute."
- Watchdog Calls on USDA to Boost Transparency in Organic Governance | Cornucopia Institute (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Organic Gardening in Hawaii

Our friend Cherie runs a Hawaii bed and breakfast on Maui and writes a Maui Hawaii Blog where she talks story about all the great stuff she does in Hawaii (like running her volunteer on vacation in Hawaii program). If you love Hawaii, you should subscribe to her blog.

In her latest post on organic gardening in Hawaii, Cherie offers up some hints for any organic gardener, and she posted some pictures of luscious fruits we cold weather gardeners are lucky to see in a supermarket!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Times are tough for the organic coffee farmers

As you probably know if you read this blog regularly, we know some organic farmers and we do our best to help them thrive. But times are tough, especially for people selling products that are more expensive than conventionally grown. As one of our financially challenged friends likes to point out, it's just too damn expensive to do the right thing when it comes to food. Arguing with him that their are hidden costs to cheap food that we all pay for later doesn't phase him, as it just doesn't matter because he can't afford to eat organic unless he grows it himself.

This has led me to the conclusion that the burden on those who can afford to eat and drink organically is higher than on people who cannot afford it. People who can afford it, in fact, have more of an ethical obligation to go organic, which will increase demand for organic products, thereby increasing supply and lowering the price for everyone. The affluent shoppers must sustain the sustainable so that we can increase the supply of sustainable food and products.

To wit: organic Kona coffee. This isn't just coffee... It's heaven in a cup. Seriously, anyone who really loves coffee should give Kona Comfort a try. I've been drinking the coffee from this farm through two owners. The new owners, Mike and Ric, bought the organic Kona coffee farm right before the recession hit, and they're having a tough time making ends meet. Competing with the big guys is hard enough, but then there are the inevitable other set backs that come with commercial agriculture operations, all which have led to tough times for these great guys who are busting their butts doing the right thing.

So, all you affluent readers (I know some of you are doing OK and can afford some of this coffee), go to the Kona Comfort Organic Coffee website and sign up for the automated shipments of organic Kona coffee. You will be seriously glad you did, and you'll be helping to sustain sustainable domestic coffee production. And what could be more fair trade than buying directly from the farmer?

Still not convinced? Just check out these reasons to order this particular gourmet organic Kona coffee:

  Our coffee beans all come from our own land, all unmixed with questionable crops from other farms.
  Each bag is processed here under our direct control, no secondary party management!
  We operate the farm ourselves, twelve months of the year: we are not absentee.
  We use traditional fermentation (with mountain rainwater no chlorine) followed by natural sun drying.
  Your coffee (before roasting) is cured AND kept protected in a climate controlled room,
when you order, then we fresh roast and ship it right out to you for your best enjoyment.
  Each person here is dedicated to and educated in strict organic practices, our compliance is certified.
  We don't "send out" our coffee for any step, it's never exposed to questionable handling by third parties.

I've had coffee from all over the world, and I'm not kidding when I say this is the the best... Seriously ONO coffee. Da Kine, bra. And these are good people who deserve a serious shot at success with this great product. Help 'em out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Organic Caterer in Los Angeles

One of my internet marketing clients, Culinary Delight Catering in Los Angeles, has started an organic catering option for her clients which has quickly become quite popular.

Here's the statement from their website:
By offering organic food to our customers, we feel like we're helping everyone do the right thing. Organic food is better for our customers' health, and it's better for the environment. Organic food has been found to be more nutritious, and it is grown or raised without any of the harmful petro-chemicals that are found in high doses on conventionally grown food. Pesticides and herbicide residues stay on food, even after washing, and can cause serious harm to your health. Chemical fertilizers destroy soil tilth and depend on an oil-based economy that is not sustainable. By using organic food for your catered meals, you are voting with your dollars to change the way food is produced.
When I was working on their new organic page, I did some research and found that there are a lot of caterers who have gone organic, many of whom are strictly organic. The one thing that's still hard to find is grass-fed beef, but things are getting better, and grass-fed will catch on just as organic has.

In the mean time, it's heartwarming to see so many food service operations offering organic or at least an organic option. In these hard times where most people are trying to find ways to cut back, it's a bit of a surprise to see demand for organic catering, which has even taken Culinary Delight by surprise. They're making organic cupcakes like crazy!

To make it clear to their clients that they can't always get everything organic (supply is still sometimes a problem), here's the list of things they can almost always supply organically:
  • sugars
  • butter
  • eggs
  • milk
  • sour cream
  • cream cheese
  • flavorings
  • fresh fruits
  • fresh vegetables
  • chicken
  • some cuts of beef
They're working on adding more to the list, as long as there is demand for it. So all you Los Angelinos out there who have control over who you choose for catering or craft services, make sure you ask for organic, and tell Emma we sent you!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Suspended Animation

Ramps! Photograph by Scott Supak, click for the big version you can use as free desktop wallpaper!
Going into my second year in upstate NY--where it still gets cold, just not so much anymore--and I'm amazed again at what can survive the winter and just start growing again like all that snow and degrees owed (only got down to -9 once this winter) never happened.

Out there this morning planting peas in earnest (the St. Patty's day peas were a crap out), I came across radicchio, collards, spinach, carrots, and miner's lettuce, all doing just fine, thank you, as if they had been in suspended animation and just, spring, came back to life.

I left the baby carrots to their own spot, but while hoeing a row for peas, adult carrots kept popping out of the ground from a spot I'd forgotten about. I threw the mangled ones up into the woods for the deer, and the rest will be food for us thanks to that free winter storage.

This phenomenon hitherto unknown to this southerner leads me to the assumption that I should be saving myself a lot of work and muddy boots by planting a bunch of cold-tolerant plants late in the fall, so they're just old enough when the warm blanket of snow covers them as they hibernate. I'm starting to see how my lazy Yankee gardener friends think now.

This tactic would allow me to spend my time more wisely in the spring. Because of my disability--lack of back bone cartilage--I only get a little time in the garden each day or I pay severely. So, I could spend more time turning compost and mixing it with horse/steer manure and peat moss to pile on the raised beds before the warm weather plants go in. I could spend more time in the woods harvesting ramps and making sure they're properly cared for so we don't deplete them. I could spend more time sitting in the chair sipping coffee listening to woodpeckers laugh and whatever birds those are that sound like they're playing Marco Polo.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Long Ant War

My friend back in California is still waging war with the invading ants, who apparently are of the sugartee--a militant sect of sugar eating ants that wage guerrilla warfare in a territorial battle for southern California. My friend was asking about aspartame, the sugar substitute in Equal, which kills ants when they eat it. Since I know he doesn't want anything even potentially dangerous around his kid, I shied him away from the faux sugar and pointed him toward some new tactical weapons in the looong war.

Once I threw some chunks of fat (we were battling the fatatee--a meat eating sect in So Cal) into the corners of my property, which I then blocked off with a thick standing infantry of diatomacious earth, after making sure that civilian children could not access the area. This classic misdirection move, followed by a pincer attack of fat bait laced with borax surrounded by diatomacious earth with howitzers of ant chalk laying down circles of indirect fire support in the gaps in our front line. 
They tried to flank us near the barbeque, but I sprayed them with cedar oil there and they beat an angry retreat into the neighbor's yard, where they were probably met with synthetic chemical warfare, which is against the Geneva conventions of insect warfare, to which we are a signatory.

Damn ants. Out there doing their job and taking hell for it...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grass-fed Cows Save The Earth

Since we sell grass-fed beef jerky, we like to plug any story we hear about how much better grass-fed beef is. It's usually about how the grass is better food for cows, which make the cows better food for you. So, we have this saying:

Grass-fed beef is better for you, the animals, and the planet.

What you don't usually hear is how grass-fed beef is better for the planet. We like to tout the fact that these animals are not eating corn, so you can subtract all the petroleum and other resources that get used to feed cows corn. But this story about how cows help the soil caught my eye.

Grass is a perennial. If cattle and other ruminants are rotated across pastures full of it, the animals' grazing will cut the blades, spurring new growth, while their trampling helps work manure and other decaying organic matter into the soil, turning it into rich humus. And healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere. 

So there you have it. How grass-fed beef can save the planet!

The article goes on to mention that yes, grass-fed cows create more methane than the corn-fed animals, but that that is more than offset by the CO2 sequestration taking place in the fields. And they're not even taking the petroleum out of the equation. So, grass-fed is actually much better for the planet than corn fed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bush Administration Ignored Organic Laws

I'm shocked, shocked to discover that Bush was the head of a giant criminal organization. In this case, it seems we were all being ripped off, paying for organic that probably wasn't.

New Management at USDA Reforms, Strengthens National Organic Program

WASHINGTON, DC: After an extensive audit and investigation of alleged improprieties at the USDA’s National Organic Program, the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) made public their formal report, dated March 9, substantiating the allegations of prominent organic industry watchdog groups — that under the Bush administration, the USDA did an inadequate job of enforcing federal organic law.

Since 2002, when the USDA adopted the federal organic regulations, the agency has been plagued by underfunding and a number of scandals and complaints about its cozy relationship with agribusiness interests and lobbyists.

While I'm happy to hear that things are getting better under the Obama administration, one way to avoid putting your trust in a corporatocracy is to know and support your local farmers. Join a CSA. Buy produce at your local farmer's market. I'm sure that even un-certified  local growers are more organic than some of the big companies that helped keep George W Bush in the White House for 8 years.

This is, of course, par for the course for the Bush administration. They had foxes guarding the hen houses in all departments of the Executive branch. I'm sure we'll be finding out all kinds of ways that the American people were duped, ripped-off, lied to, harmed, and even killed in order to boost the bottom line of some international conglomerate.

Oh, wait. We already have, haven't we? That was the whole Bush raison d'ĂȘtre.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Break the Tradition... Un-corned Beef!

Tradition has it that up here at 42.77 north latitude you don't plant anything less hardy than a collard until after Memorial Day. But there is, of course, a contrary tradition of planting peas on St. Patrick's day, which I shall now be doing, at least in the places where the snow has melted and where I can get without waste-high mud boots.

There is also this tradition of eating corned-beef, which we will be reversing by eating un-corned beef, meaning we didn't get a brisket to put in brine, and the beef we eat now is grass-fed. So, no corned beef in anyway whatsoever today.

I will, however, still be drinking a Guinness this evening. Some traditions are worth keeping.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Weeds Genetically Engineer Themselves to Resist Roundup

Monsanto deserves its critics. They genetically engineered plants to resist Roundup, and now the weeds are doing the same to keep up. Way to go Monsanto...

in reference to:

"Scientists said on Friday they have confirmed expanding weed resistance to a key ingredient in Monsanto's (MON.N)widely used Roundup herbicide, a troubling development for farmers and fresh fodder for Monsanto critics."
- UPDATE 1-More US weeds found resisting Monsanto Roundup | Reuters (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, February 19, 2010

From the Grass-fed Duh Files

OK, I shouldn't be so harsh when people discover that grass-fed beef is better for you and the planet, especially when they're playing up the angle that rotating fields of grass-fed beef actually improves degraded soil. But it is a sort of duh. Just look at the fertile plains of North America that the settlers found under roaming buffalo that had built the prairie over eons of rotation through those fields. And look at those fields now... barren big agri wastelands polluted with petroleum-based farming known as synthetic chemical subsidized agri-business. And then look at the feed lots where thousands of animals are concentrated into environmental grass lands.

Then look at this:

Case rested.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Natural Pest Control Product

The question I get most often is how to get rid of bugs. The answer, for the garden at least, is to make sure your soil is healthy, which will make sure your plants are healthy (other factors do apply, like sun, temperature, water...), which will make the plants more able to resist bugs. Stressed out plants are bug magnets, since bugs are just doing their job by helping weed out the weaklings.

Occasionally, though, the bugs go crazy and attack everything. In that case, you need an organic and natural pest killer. Our friend Jackie (who makes great Hawaiian perfumes and body butters) recently started Natural Pest Free, which sells cedar-oil-based natural pest control products.

CEDAR OIL for more than a 1000 years is and has been a proven method of pest control that emphasizes simple, inexpensive, 100% organic practices that cause no harm to people or the environment. CEDAR OIL focuses on building a barrier of entry on the perimeter of your property, so bugs stay out of your yard, which means they stay out of your home. At Natural Pest Free we are dedicated to reducing the health risk and environmental impacts of pesticides and promoting organic alternatives to homeowners across America, one home at a time.

I'm a big fan of the natural barrier plan. I surround my garden with rows of clover, which rabbits and deer love. They'll stop and eat the clover and be happy with it, never making it deep into the garden where the expensive goodies are. Occasionally there's a deer (like our regular visitor, Scarface, shown here), who gets deep into the garden where he's learned to love pea shoots (who doesn't). In that case I use hot pepper waxes, another barrier--one that sends scarface running for the nearest water.

So, a cedar oil barrier makes sense for keeping the bugs out. I suggest using it sparingly, mostly when there's a serious infestation of something you really need to stop. Remember, when you're gardening, most bugs are beneficial, so you don't want to just keep all bugs out.

But in your home is another matter. This is a great product for use as an in-home pesticide.

...control of Head lice, Mosquitoes, Flies, Fleas, No-See-Um, Chiggers, Ticks, Chinch Bugs, Grub Worms, Mites, Mole Crickets, Earwigs, Slugs, Snails, Caterpillars, Beetles, June Bugs, May Bugs, Root Maggots, Army Worms, Weevils, Wire Worms, Ants and Termites.

Way to go Jackie! I'm proud to be affiliated with such a fine product!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cold Climate Composting

As my friend Mort Mather says, the soil is your bank. You can't make withdrawals unless you make deposits. I get composting straw and manure from Nectar Hills Farm (where we also get the beef for our grass-fed gourmet beef jerky), which I mix with my kitchen waste to create compost that I then deposit into the soil bank so I can make fresh veggie withdrawals. Mort and I are both lazy gardeners, meaning we like to let nature do as much of the work as possible, and we just help her along.

Last winter, though, my compost pile (which, by the way, lowers my carbon footprint considerably, since that food waste won't decompose anaerobically in the landfill) froze solid, like a big block of ice. It was my first real winter after years of living in substantially warmer climates. This year, I was ready for these sub-zero temperatures. With a couple of bags of hay, some very dry, aged horse manure, and a lot of snow for insulation, I have built a very insulated compost pile.

Since I'm lazy, the pile is up against the foundation of the house, right at the bottom of the back stairs. I don't want to have to put on the snow shoes to compost all winter. This way, the compost is only exposed on three sides. On two of those sides, I've stacked flakes from the hay bales, creating a kind of straw bale shelter for the pile. The front is open, but held up about 18 inches with some chicken wire fencing, which I have now piled snow up against for insulation. The top of the pile is covered with snow, which I poured hot water down to create a cylindrical hole down to the top of the pile.

Now, when I want to compost, I just pour some fresh hot water down the hole to melt any new snow that accumulated, then I dump my compost bucket down the hole, layer some manure on top of that, and then a couple of handfulls of hay (or the cedar shreds I take out of our turtle cage when I clean it, which has turtle manure) down the hole. Come spring (or another thaw like we had a week ago) there will be a bunch of cylinders of frozen compost sticking up on the top of the pile. I'll be sure to take a picture of that scene.

But underneath all that lies the compost pile proper, where my probes have proven that composting is taking place, worms are thriving (future turtle food), and aerobic decomposition is reducing our carbon output. But the best part, of course, is that come spring, when I build some new raised beds, I'll have plenty of currency saved up for the soil bank!

Of course, if you have a little money to spend, I imagine a black plastic composter would use insulating and solar power to keep your pile going year around, unless you're above the arctic circle.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ant Wars!

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
A very good friend of mine from my stagehand days recently bought a house--a fixer upper in ant country--and asked for some help on that front.

Ants go where the food is, so first, make sure there's nothing for them to eat. This is most important! Cut off their supplies!

Now the battle can begin!

Put out the ant baits you can buy anywhere, but put them outside near their homes. I used to use those metal stakes that go in the ground. They work for a while, but eventually they learn to avoid them, so you have to keep changing brands. This is the artillery to soften them up a little.

Find where they're coming through the wall. Unless they're under the house, or living in the house somewhere, they're coming in through a crack, usually around a cable inlet hole or window. Caulk. You want to seal the holes anyway, for energy efficiency.

Now you're going to have to launch an attack on their fort. Follow their trail back to the home. If you don't care about growing anything in that spot for a while, pour a bunch of vinegar down the hole. Get the 10% vinegar if you can find it, but 5% is OK. If you dig the area up after wards and compost the soil with some grass clippings and food waste, it will balance out the pH and you can use the soil again.

If you do want to grow something there immediately, you can get some Diatomaceous Earth--not the kind for pools, but the finer kind used to kill bugs--you can pile it on the mound and in a radius of a foot or so, more if it's big. The powder is so fine it clogs the breathing pores in their skin. Be sure not to breathe the stuff, as it will do the same to your lungs. They will die trying to get out. In fact, they will build a bridge of dead ants and crawl over them, so you have to keep going there, raking the area free of dead any bridges, and reapply as needed. Watch for places where they try to tunnel out, and apply there to. Obviously, you're going to have to be patient and vigilant. Kind of like democracy.

If you really want to have some pyrotechnic fun, I suggest gasoline of kerosene. Not exactly organic, but you're going to let it soak in and then light it up. Careful. I suggest some sort of fuse so you can stand back when the fire geyser spews flaming ants into the sky.

If they're really bad, there is an ant chalk that is technically illegal, but they sell it in Chinatown. It has a neurotoxin in it, so use gloves, and make sure the kid can't get near it. It's not technically organic, although a lot of people say it is. The active ingredients are Cypermethrin and Deltamethrin, which are both common, very weak insecticides which break down quickly (but are really bad for fish, so don't use near water). They are both Pyrethroids, synthetic chemicals that very closely resemble pyrethrins, which come from flowers. This is what a lot of ant sprays have in them, but I hate sprays as a lot of it gets in the air that way. Besides, they stink for days after you spray them.

Draw chalk lines where the ants are coming into the house, on concrete it works well, you have to press hard to make sure it gets into the stucco. They will not come back for a long time once they get a taste of that stuff.

Finally, learn to live with a few of them. Too many and there's obviously a food source available, so again, make sure every thing's sealed up. Battle them back as much as possible, but there will always be scouts. Kill them when you see them, but no need to freak. They're actually pretty clean, an amazing evolutionary engineering wonder. The colony acts like a single brain (I often call it the ant brain).

And they're just doing their (very important) job....

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture

This is an interesting post on Grist: It takes a community to sustain a small farm. It doesn't mention CSAs, community supported agriculture, where local residents purchase "shares" of a farm, which guarantees delivery of a set amount of food over a period of time, usually a year. But it does address the issues small, local farms face, considering that agribusiness has been putting the little guys--from farmers to butchers to truck drivers and grocers--out of business for a long time now.

Our local and organic grass-fed highlander beef (very lean), which we use for our Happy Hobo Grass-fed Beef Jerky, is from Nectar Hills Farm, which recently started an upstate New York CSA of their own, mostly for meat (they also have lamb, pork, poultry, eggs, and cheese), but also other things from the farm, like incredible organic produce during the season and organic red bamboo honey (which we also use in the beef jerky).

Nectar Hills Farm also has a new farm picture gallery, if you'd like to see some pictures of a small organic farm in upstate New York.

CSAs aren't new. You can find one near you on the Local Harvest's CSA finder. They're a great way to help your local farmer. It gets them money when they need it, and it gets you a discount on farm-fresh local and organic products on a regular basis. This food is better for you, better for the animals, and better for the environment. It is money you won't spend keeping big agri-business in business.

Our New Year's resolution is to stop eating corn-fed and factory farmed beef. You don't have to be that drastic about it, but once you research grass-fed beef in your area, you'll find an array of delicious meats that are essentially solar powered, instead of oil and corn powered, like the concentrated feed lots of industrial meat production.