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Farm For All - A Journal Of Sorts

 
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Landowner brought home tomatoes from a friend's garden. Not gonna lie, they're pretty flavorless (probably from excessive irrigation, if OSU's dry farming taste test is any indication). But damn. I cooked some up into a sauce with some of the garlic I grew and served it over hash browns and eggs, and that is hands down the best garlic I've ever tasted. This is literally just some unlabeled variety that I picked up at a local farm stand. I was bummed that it ended up so small because of the drought, but this is also one of the few beds that got remineralized with Steve Solomon's Complete Organic Fertilizer, and got a full serving of compost (at least, one of the few beds that got that treatment and actually produced something. I don't know how much credit to give the minerals and how much credit to give the variety, but a little will definitely go a long way.

Does anyone recognize the sprouts in the second picture? I'm sure it's something from my seed mix given how much is coming up, but there are a handful of things in there I've never grown before, and this doesn't look familiar to me. Could just be a weed, but I'm unsure.

I don't know if sudachi tastes any good, but I've got citrus! This is literally the one thing hasn't been fazed by the drought at all. This is along the driveway and far enough from any available water source that it didn't get water at all fit the past 6 months and I was prepared for it to just die. But here it is producing a fruit like it's no big deal. And it's on the short list it citrus that's hardy enough to live outside here.

Compare that to the pineapple guavas growing right next to the sudachi. They're still technically alive, but they're almost completely defoliated save for a few leaves at the tips of each branch. Luckily they survived, since the cuttings I took from one of them never made it. Looks like I'll get another chance.

I also planted a row of fig cuttings to the north of the citrus/guavas. Out of 8 or so, the sad one pictured below is the sole survivor. Two of the mulberries to the north of those are equally as sad, but still alive.

Other things of note: I had a ton of volunteer turnips pop up in my broccoli/beet/scorzonera(?) bed. To be fair, I winnowed my seeds over the compost pile, so everywhere I put compost had turnips coming up, which was 90% of the motivation for the way I'm handling the garden space from here on out. I haven't checked on this bed because everything I planted on purpose had long since died and I had no reason to believe the random volunteers were doing any better. Boy was I wrong. There are quite a few baseball sized turnips growing out there. Given their drought tolerance, I'd like to get seeds from most of them (not that I have any shortage of turnips, but I really want to hang onto those genetics.) I might harvest them all, taste them, and trust only the biggest and best tasting of the bunch. We'll see.

Oh, and I also finally have sunchokes up to hip height. People talk about them like they're weeds that will completely take over, but they don't do that here. Without supplemental irrigation they just barely get by in our climate. Even last year, when we had a more typical level of drought, I only had two plants survive and produce tubers. About 30 in total. Survival was much better this year because they got mulch and were able to overwinter in the ground, but I still lost a few. One of them is actually starting to flower. None of them were healthy enough to flower last year.

I have one runner bean out of a couple dozen or so that's actually survived. I'm pretty dubious about it producing seed. In my experience thus far, by the time it cools down enough for them to actually produce, it ends up being too close to the frost for them to actually mature seeds. After it gets a few beans set I might top it and try to get it to put all of its energy into those seeds. Not hopeful, though. Haven't had any luck with them producing/regrowing from tubers either, but I'll see if I find one when I go to dig the achira, which has been similarly dwarfed by the drought.

I think that's everything I've got to report on for today. I am starting to weed the thistles out of the garden. I would have liked to have gotten in another pass with the scythe, but covid happened. At this point, the stuff that's doing the best (and which I thus want to save seeds from) is big enough that I wouldn't be able to avoid it with the scythe. At least, not if I want to scythe even remotely efficiently. So, pulling it is. The ground is well-drenched after the rain we had so they're coming up pretty easily. The is their second or third attempt at flowering and producing seed, so I'm hoping they're weak enough that once my seedlings have light, they'll fill in the space and crowd out the thistles. We'll see how that goes.
IMG_20210920_125126.jpg
Can't believe how good this garlic is...
Can't believe how good this garlic is...
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Does anyone recognize these sprouts?
Does anyone recognize these sprouts?
IMG_20210920_135255.jpg
Citrus!
Citrus!
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Pineapple guava
Pineapple guava
IMG_20210920_135444.jpg
Fig
Fig
IMG_20210920_135525.jpg
Mulberry
Mulberry
 
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Rain!!!
 
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Posts: 522
Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
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Thanks for the reminder about Steve Solomon's complete organic fertilizer. I've been wondering if there was an easier way than his whole complicated amendment calculations.
 
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Mathew, did you not get any cowpeas at all? I was hopeful that they might work for you. If some runner beans made it through the drought seems like cowpeas might have as well. I got a very nice harvest with approximately 20% of the total being those little white ones from Carol Deppe's strain. As usual I planted them all mixed up and am hopeful that some crossing took place. I have lots of seed if you'd like to try again with them.

Sunchokes are a fail here too. There are wild ones in abundance but they just have little tiny roots. Every time I have planted any they grew well for awhile but then some unseen burrowing critter has destroyed them.

I looked up Steve Solomon's fertilizer, what I found was a hundred bucks for enough to cover about 5% of my garden. Not gonna happen, not that it would have anyway. I toss in some chicken poo and a little wood ash from time to time but my garden hasn't seen anything resembling "fertilizer" in a quarter century or so. Composting all garden waste, weeds, leaves and other stuff collected around the property seems to work fine. If a particular crop might be perfect with purchased inputs I don't really care. Most things grow pretty good anyway and that's good enough for me.

Thanks for the photo of the balut egg. I thought that is what it was but wasn't sure. Don't think I'm quite up to trying that myself.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Andrew Sackville-West wrote:Rain!!!



Finally! No more in the forecast for at least a couple weeks, but it's something.
 
Mathew Trotter
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denise ra wrote:Thanks for the reminder about Steve Solomon's complete organic fertilizer. I've been wondering if there was an easier way than his whole complicated amendment calculations.



West of the Cascades, we have a pretty standardized soil type because it's all derived from the same rock. Because that's where Steve used to live before he lived to Tasmania, he's got a standardized recipe that doesn't require a soil test. It's mild enough that you can't really overdo it, and it gets a little better each and every year, and thus you can apply less and less each year. Anywhere other than west of the Cascades, soils are too variable, though he does still have a standardized recipe in Gardening When It Counts with notes on his to adapt it to different soil types. I don't know how useful it is in every situation, but it's certainly less hassle that the soil test and calculations. Honestly, I didn't find The Intelligent Gardener as compelling at his previous books, though it had some interesting bits that built on the previous knowledge
 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:Mathew, did you not get any cowpeas at all? I'd was hopeful that they might work for you. If some runner beans made it through the drought seems like cowpeas might have as well. I got a very nice harvest with approximately 20% of the total being those little white ones from Carol Deppe's strain. As usual I planted them all mixed up and am hopeful that some crossing took place. I have lots of seed if you'd like to try again with them.



I wasn't able to do any summer crops this year. The only thing I attempted was zucchini, and the gophers ended up destroying all of it because there was literally no other living vegetation on the property. There just want enough moisture to get anything to germinate, let alone live if it managed to. And I was already killing my self to fail at keeping most of the things I'd already planted alive. I didn't want to waste seeds on a guaranteed failure. If 179 days without rain didn't kill stuff (which was pretty much the case with all the weeds and even established trees), then wildlife desperate for food certainly would have.

The landowner has since invested in some sprinklers, so I can at least irrigate enough to get things germinated. My plan for next year is to maintain a small irrigated area where I can be guaranteed a seed crop and build up my seed bank, and then use the remaining unirrigated space for selecting stuff that can actually handle the abuse and neglect of but being pampered.


Sunchokes are a fail here too. There are wild ones in abundance but they just have little tiny roots. Every time I have planted any they grew well for awhile but then some unseen burrowing critter has destroyed them.



Luckily, the gophers don't seem interested in them. They've dug pretty close to a few of the plants, but they're still alive. Perhaps they're robbing tubers and just haven't done enough damage to kill anything. 30ish tubers off of 2 plays wasn't terrible. Just means I need to start with a lot more tubers in the ground. Still not as productive as they would be with ample water.


I looked up Steve Solomon's fertilizer, what I found was a hundred bucks for enough to cover about 5% of my garden. Not gonna happen, not that it would have anyway. I toss in some chicken poo and a little wood ash from time to time but my garden hasn't seen anything resembling "fertilizer" in a quarter century or so. Composting all garden waste, weeds, leaves and other stuff collected around the property seems to work fine. If a particular crop might be perfect with purchased inputs I don't really care. Most things grow pretty good anyway and that's good enough for me.



Is your garden 40,000 square feet?

I don't know what you found, but Steve's fertilizer is something that you mix yourself from ingredients that are mostly readily available from feed/farm supply stores, plus one or two things from grocery stores. I've got a spreadsheet for calculating the cost (because of course I do) and it works out to 45 cents a pound, or about $50 per 1,000 square feet. Not free, but it produces more than $50 worth of value in the productivity of the vegetables, at least in new gardens on degraded soil.

Strictly speaking, it's not necessary. Especially if you already have well-established soils. That talk by John Kempf details the trace minerals that are required to go from a mere 20% photosynthetic efficiency to 60% and above. More photosynthetic efficiency means more root biomass and more root exudates which means more symbiotic bacteria which means more of all soil life which means more nutrient cycling in the soil. You can get there eventually by just adding organic matter and waiting, but getting those trace minerals in jump starts the process of soil building. Which is kind of important here when I can't even get weeds to grow so that I have something to feed the garden.

Been using it off and on 15 years since the permaculture project I was involved with at my university. And we were growing heads off lettuce bigger than the gals that were harvesting them. Easily 3-4 feet across.

Then there's the nutritional aspect. I think Paul Gautschi's garden demonstrates that you will eventually get there just by adding in organic matter, at least if that organic matter comes from trees and other deep-rooted perennials, but the flip side is that when Steve first started gardening here and living 100% off of the produce in his garden, he almost lost his teeth because the nutrition in the soil, and consequently his vegetables, was so out of whack. He grew great looking vegetables on compost alone, but creating compost from plant materials that are already deficient in minerals will just further compound those deficiencies. He started adding in the things that were missing and his health improved. Granted, I do think he would have gotten there faster if he wasn't digging in his garden, but that's beside the point.

Again, not necessary, but I've seen the side by side comparison of stuff grown with and without, and the stuff grown with is both more productive and better tasting. And once the minerals are in the plants, they'll also be in the compost you make with those plants. And when the plants are producing enough root exudates to feed the soil microbiology, they'll work to cycle the nutrients that are there.

Obviously I'm not covering the entire property in the stuff. I'm using it to jumpstart the small area that I'm trying to get built up. Once those minerals are cycling through the system via compost and manure, and once the soil microbiology is established enough to start mining those nutrients, then the benefit will be negligible. Which is exactly how John Kempf talks about it. It's like a mineral inoculant to get the ball rolling, and once it is, you don't need it. The biology takes over.


Thanks for the photo of the balut egg. I thought that is what it was but wasn't sure. Don't think I'm quite up to trying that myself.



It really is a texture problem. The flavor is fine. Trying again tomorrow, and they should be well developed at that point. Hopefully I can get it down. I still think I prefer insects, though...
 
Mathew Trotter
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Again, not necessary, but I've seen the side by side comparison of stuff grown with and without, and the stuff grown with is both more productive and better tasting.



I don't have a lot of pictures showing the difference between with and without, but I do have pictures of turnips grown in the native soil versus the ones that volunteered in my fertilized garlic bed. The smaller ones are about a month older than the large one that got fertilizer. It's not an insignificant difference, both in terms of time savings and overall yield.

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Without COF
Without COF
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With COF
With COF
 
Mathew Trotter
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Tried to adjust the colors so it was easier to see, but I might still be the only person that can tell what's going on in this photo. The top and right side of the "terrace" is what it looked like before. The left side of the terrace is after pulling and dropping the thistles. All of my little seedlings are growing under this light layer of fresh organic matter.
IMG_20210921_093713_751.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20210921_093713_751.jpg]
 
Mark Reed
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My two gardens together are really only about 20,000 sq ft. Subtract out the permanent pathways and it's less than that but I've never bothered to measure exactly.

It did occur to me that those extra things might be good to jump start the process of restoring a badly abused spot.

My primary garden actually was badly abused in times past. Prior to sixty to seventy years or so ago it was a tobacco patch and no doubt poisened and chemical fertilized in the extreme. After that it was abandoned to become part of pasture and I'm told occasionally mowed with a tractor and bush hog. About 50 years ago and 25 years before I arrived it was completely abandoned. When I arrived it was a thicket of black locust, eastern red cedar, wild grape, wild rose and so on.

Actually that is what my whole place was when I fist got here. I tamed about an acre and a half which is where the house, fenced gardens and a little bit of yard are. I semi-tamed another couple or so acres which is where a lot of fruit and nut trees and other stuff lives. Oak, maple and other small trees and saplings I rescued from the overgrowth then are beautiful trees now. Unfortunately the ash succumbed to the borers and have since been burned in the wood stove.  The rest is still the way it was except for some spots where I harvest firewood.

My secondary garden is on a bit of a slope and not part of where the tobacco was grown. I only cleared it off about five years ago and just this spring was able to dig out the last of the black locust stumps. Those trees were much larger than those I tackled in the other garden and I used their posts on then downhill side of somewhat terraced beds.  This garden never gets a drop of irrigation and sometimes gets entirely neglected depending on what else is going on. I call it the survival of the fittest garden. If something thrives there in the poorer soil with the weeds it gets promoted to the front garden.

Probably both gardens might have benefited from something like the Solomon formula but I doubt it's needed now. My produce pretty much always tastes good, and often even looks good. I'll just go on faith that it is also nutritious.





 
Mark Reed
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That is a nice turnip but it's way smaller than mine sometimes are. Mine generally volunteer and live through winter, I often leave them to rot the next summer after harvesting seed. One time I noticed a particularly large one. I just left it there and planted tomatoes around it. Sometime later on a very hot day I was bare footed while inspecting the tomatoes having forgotten about the giant turnip under the mulch. Suddenly my foot disappeared to above the ankle in something warm and slimy.  Liquid turnip in the 90 degree sun! The aroma was in a word, memorable.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:That is a nice turnip but it's way smaller than mine sometimes are. Mine generally volunteer and live through winter, I often leave them to rot the next summer after harvesting seed. One time I noticed a particularly large one. I just left it there and planted tomatoes around it. Sometime later on a very hot day I was bare footed while inspecting the tomatoes having forgotten about the giant turnip under the mulch. Suddenly my foot disappeared to above the ankle in something warm and slimy.  Liquid turnip in the 90 degree sun! The aroma was in a word, memorable.



Yeah. That's only a comparison of the difference in my soil at present. You can't think of it like chemical fertilizer. It's more of a mineral inoculant. It still needs the organic matter and microbiology in the soil for optimum results. But lacking those things, it still makes a difference, and starts improving the soil in its own right.

He's basically formulated it to be idiot-proof. You can't really apply so much that you create problematic imbalances in your soil. It's meant to gradually bring the levels up over a handful of seasons such that you add less and less with each application until you don't need it anymore. I mean, he'd argue that you still need some amount each year, or at least every couple of years, to account for what you're taking out, but I'm still convinced that that's down to him refusing to adopt no-dig. I kinda figure his next book will be him admitting that he's been wrong this whole time and no-dig is superior, but he very well may die on that hill. 🀣

It should also be noted that that turnip was harvested after we'd already gone 90 days without rain. To produce a turnip that size with no water and in otherwise atrocious soil is no small feat. This year we'll get to see how well they do with irrigation and increasingly improving soil. They'll be as big as basketballs in no time. 🀣

Also important to recognize that the whole thing is multifaceted. I think Joseph has demonstrated that you can breed your way out of most problems. And it's ultimately the case that soils improve over time unless humans get involved and make them worse.

I think looking at Joseph's breeding work through the lens of Elaine Ingham and John Kempf's research elucidates why Joseph's approach is so effective, sans amendments.

Elaine's work posits that every soil in the world has all the nutrients a plant needs to be healthy, they just aren't necessarily in plant available forms, so you need the soil biology to process those minerals so the plants can use them. Even her detractors have said that that's technically true, though they argue that there isn't necessarily enough of each mineral to grow healthy plants, but those minerals are technically present in every soil. It's the soil biology that's missing.

That's our baseline. Minerals are there, plants just can't get to them yet.

There are two components of John's work that are relevant here. The first has to do with the relationship between photosynthetic efficiency and soil building. I mentioned it previously, but a monoculture of corn will increase soil organic matter by Β½% each year given that these two things are true: it's not a genetically modified corn (why that matters is key to understanding the second component of John's work) and that it has a photosynthetic efficiency of 60% or greater. Photosynthetic efficiency, at its most basic level, is a measure of whether a plant has the base minerals it needs to create carbohydrates through photosynthesis, or whether it must first expend some of the energy it produces to convert other components it has available into what it needs to complete photosynthesis. Manganese and a few other minerals are the limiting factors in photosynthetic efficiency. As efficiency increases, the plant ends up producing more carbohydrates than it can use to build biomass, so it ends up pumping out more and more of it as root exudates, AKA carbon, which boosts the soil organic matter literally just by having a plant that exists. (And the only reason corn is used is because it's been well-studied compared to other crops; this isn't something that's unique to corn.)

The fact that this doesn't hold true for genetically modified corn is telling. The reason it doesn't work with genetically modified corn is because it associates with a completely different set of microbes that ultimately oxidize minerals in the soil and create worsening soil, at least by certain measures. This means there's a very significant genetic component to what soil microbes any given plant will associate with. And since it's the microbes that cycle nutrients into plant available forms, then the plants which have the genetics for symbiosis with A) microbes that are endemic to the soil they're growing in, and B) the microbes that are most efficient at mining the necessary minerals in the soil, will have the best productivity.

The reason Joseph's plants do so well without any amendments, in my honest estimation, is because he's choosing the best plants each generation. The reason those plants are better is because they've been bred to have a more efficient relationship with the microbes that are native to his soil. What makes that relationship more efficient is that the microbes effectively convert minerals like manganese into plant available forms. Those minerals then increase the photosynthetic efficiency of the plants, which increases the amount of exudates they produce, which feeds a ever larger population of beneficial microbes, which then convert more manganese/etc. up to the point where the plant hits peak photosynthetic efficiency and thus peak soil building. All without external inputs.

This is why saving seeds is really the most important part of the process. Adding Steve's mix can jump start the process of improving photosynthetic efficiency, and importing organic matter can help keep the soil microbes fed in spite of less efficient photosynthesis, and you will see the benefit no matter what seeds you put in the ground if everything else is improving, but if those seeds are adapted to the specific microbiology of the local soil that's when the real magic happens.

Time is the other factor. Like I said, all soils are moving towards health in the absence of negative human intervention. All plants are moving toward health in the absence of human intervention as wellβ€”the best plants (maybe or maybe not by human standards) produce the most offspring and pass on the traits that made that possible, i.e. symbiosis with the ideal microbes. We can speed up the process, but it's happening with or without us, if maybe only over hundreds or thousands of years. If we do nothing, the soil biology improves eventually. If we add organic matter, soil biology can improve dramatically in over 3-5 years. But if we create and analyze compost tea under a microscope to ensure that it has the correct ratios of bacteria to fungi to protozoa to nematodes, we can get massive gains in a single season. So, it's just a question of how long we're willing to wait, and what effort and resources we're willing and able to put in. I would prefer to not import anything, and I know that it's not necessary, but I'd also like to eat. Long-term, my emphasis is on breeding and soil improvement. Short-term, spending $50 to jump start the whole process and get a worthwhile yield in a limited space is worth it. It's less than I'd spend on a similar quantity of groceries, and the quality is vastly superior. But I'm certainly not putting all of my eggs in one basket. Like you, making seeds prove themselves in some back field without any pampering is what makes them worthy to be saved. Because those are the plants that are keyed into this natural system for soil improvement.

This is a lot of what I've been mulling over lately: the relationship between improving plants and improving soil. Gleaning those tidbits from John's talk really helped make sense out of why traditional breeders never have to amend their soils, and yet those get better or stay the same year after year of growing the same crop. Meanwhile, farmers/gardeners routinely amend their soils, be that with fertilizers or compost. The only difference I can see is that breeders are selecting the plants that most benefit the soil, whereas the farmers and gardeners that have to amend their soils are importing new genetics each year that extract from the soil without giving anything back.

But that's just my writing theory so far. I guess we'll see how my unpampered landraces improve from year to year and what happens to the soil in the process.
 
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