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Jim Tuttle

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since Oct 01, 2015
5 years experience in organic gardening/farming, 3 years experience in hydroponic vegetable production, 2 years experience in aquaponics, 6 years experience in brewing beer
Southern Oregon
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Recent posts by Jim Tuttle

Travis, I hope people like you are the future of large-scale operations. Unfortunately, where I am currently in prime ag land in central CA, NO ONE is doing what you are. We have one OMRI-cert'd farm, and they do not even use cover crops. In fact, with the exception of not seeing massive injectors and fert tanks, they are indistinguishable from the surrounding farms.

Soil salinity has been on the rise as long as I've been here, with more and more farmland going fallow due to excessive EC and sodium. There is no rotational grazing, no one does that. All we have are CAFL's with stinking 15 foot piles of manure, or open range with a few cattle over miles of nearly barren hills. Fields full of irrigated alfalfa to feed animals, or acres of irrigated grapes to feed the big corps that own most of them. The grape growers here overhead irrigate non-stop during cold periods, so much so that they flood all the nearby neighborhoods, all while those same neighbors watch their 300-foot wells go dry. These people are why Big Ag has a bad name. This is ag with one purpose: profit.

Consider what percentage of produce in the stores come from CA, then consider what you do is almost unknown here. It's a bit depressing.
4 years ago
Coming from an area where grape production is dropping the water table like a rock, and farms are getting more and more automation, I find it hard to believe these business models will change without either collapse of the paradigm, or serious government subsidy. The methods we all embrace and are developing are not suited to debt-based farming, period. They are labor-intensive (at least at first), and do not generally mesh well with large harvester machines. Plus, margins are razor-thin. Multi-million dollar lettuce farms net roughly $45-55K for the farmer, fuel and equipment takes a huge chunk, but still the trend is toward more machines, not less.

I think you'd need to see a major change in the way funding is handled before you'll see any change in methods. Private funding might play a significant role in this, since governments typically move too slow, do silly things and/or end up stomping on the little guys, i.e. OMRI.

How about subscription farming coupled with some sort of GoFundMe project? In fact, why even focus on Big Ag? They will go the way of the Dodo sooner or later. Some things just take time. I really don't think a top-down solution would be the best idea. Unfortunately, that lands us back at education to get the public wanting the produce we grow, not cilantro from Mexico fertilized with raw sewage.
4 years ago
Casie, what do the chips do for you? Is that to conserve a bit of water? I always run a drip line BEFORE I set out potted plants, I've learned the hard way it's always best to have irrigation before potting up. Of course, that's in CA, where we get 5-10" of rain a year.

With that much media shrinkage, you must be using a lot of organic matter. I've tried a lot of mixes over the years, and the one I've stuck with for a few seasons now is mostly bark fines, a little compost, and some powders (wood ash, gypsum, greensand, Cal-Phos). I'm always looking to improve transplant success, though.
4 years ago
That's impressive, what variety is that? We tried planting "upside down" tomatoes one year, ended up with "compost tea" all over the fruit, not cool!
Just wanted to second everything RedHawk said, obviously has experience. I'd start looking into hydroponic formulations (again, if you're not averse to such things). Let me know if you want my "secret formula", hehe. Couple years ago I grew a 6' cucumber vine out of a 4" pot, to see if it was possible. The little pot had wicks into a bucket of hydroponic solution. The point being, root mass matters less if nutrition is perfect (or close).

On plastic bags: those grocery bags break down REALLY fast in UV light, could be perfect, could be a mess...
That should work great. Be careful with leaf mold, though, it can seriously impair drainage. I'd probably use it as a top layer.
4 years ago
The answer is, it depends. Is the clay soil going to be able to support healthy growth, or will you need to be adding compost/cover crops for several years? Take a look around at what else the soil is supporting.

Usually you get drainage problems with clay soil in a pot, which leads to root rot. You can cut your heavy clay soil with bark fines, available at any Home Depot or similar box store. DON'T use sand, that's for making bricks! I'd probably go 50-50, but make a few test batches to see how fast they drain in a pot. If you have standing water after a few minutes, it's too slow.

My experience is that fabric pots only make your soil dry out faster. Yes, you will get some root pruning, which is helpful when planting out, but if your summers are hot and dry, you'll struggle to keep the plant hydrated. I bought 15 smart pots many years ago, ended up giving them all away. Of course, you can easily cut down on the water loss by putting them in plastic bags with a hole or three in the bottom. Hope that helps!
4 years ago
Almost any plant can be grown in a container, but quality and vitality may suffer, i.e. carrot's won't develop a proper edible root in a pot.

The other HUGE issue is nutrition. In a bed, plants roots seek out water and nutrients, but you are going to be restricting them. Tomato and pepper do just fine in small containers IF they have adequate nutrients, like in a hydroponic set-up, or possibly aquaponics.

You can't put a tomato in a two-gallon pot, give it nothing but water and expect good results. If you are open to synthetics, Cornell has very good info on formulating. You could also try compost teas, but it will take you a while to nail down a recipe that doesn't result in deficiencies or salt stress.

For what it's worth, I did a side-by-side trial one year with Robeson tomato. Hydroponic vs. organic field soil vs. aged horse manure. The horse manure tomatoes won in both the looks and flavor categories (blind taste test), while the hydroponics won for yield. There's still so much we don't know about plant nutrition.
Couple of misconceptions here. Using pine needles/duff does NOT drive pH down. I've tried to adjust my soil pH down using pine needles, it doesn't work. Pine bark on the other hand, when mixed in at very high ratios, does drive pH down (pine bark has a pH of 4-4.5), but you have to mix it at least 25% to see a pH change, especially if you have high alkalinity (which I do).

Pine does not stunt plants. Container growers on the east coast use pine sawdust as media all the time. I use pine bark as a component in my potting mixes. It DOES rob N, so they inject more to compensate. You're talking about using logs, though, I assume. In that case, no change in Ph will occur, except at the soil-wood interface, which is minimal for a log. Mixing in chipped wood would give you more pH change, but also much more N-def, and the wood will break down very quickly compared to a log.

Pine typically rots in the ground relatively quickly. Much faster than cedar, not as fast as mulberry, willow, or cottonwood. Use it!
4 years ago