Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fashionable Farming

I've been overambitious in my garden plans this year.  It's starting to sink in now that I'm actually building it.  Gods, what was I thinking?  Last year half the garden was overwhelming, but this.....

My consolation is my early planted tomatoes.  They are doing well.  Army worms have been kept at bay - wooly bears, not so much, but they are so cute, I can forgive them.

Yesterday we went to stock up on non-gmo corn, barley, peas, etc for the piggies while we are away in France.  We all came along, I thought it would be some nice knitting time, perhaps we could stop at the river on the way back?  There was a Survival Gardening lecture that evening I was hoping to make.  Surely it won't take long to load up some bags and hit the road again?

When we got there, we encountered a new possibility.  The feed seller, a farmer himself, was waiting and eager for a conversational opportunity.  Being at home with small children very often for the past decade, I can sympathize, but.....

It was mostly my fault.  I always say the wrong thing, somehow.  But I had no idea.  All I said was, "Did you lime....." and he was off.

There's been a woman from Australia who did a lecture in these parts, and thus her style of farming suggestions (she isn't actually a farmer, merely a consultant) is very much in vogue among the eco-inclined around here.  They really like it, because she suggests not adding anything, just growing stuff (adding seeds, basically).  He gave me a long, long lecture about how "all the minerals you need are right here in the soil.  You don't have to add anything!  It's all about the mycorrhizae !"

I am familiar with her school of thought, and while I think it is interesting, and am even planning on using some of her suggestions, I am also very sceptical, because there's no place on earth like Florida.  If there was a Florida eco-famer/grazier who could say exactly how they became wildly successful at growing things overnight, I'm there.  But let's face it.  The soil here is mostly silica. 

 Every few years there's some new darling of eco-agriculture offering miraculous suggestions.  The most popular ideas are the ones that require the least effort.  "All you need is to move the cows around!" Joel Salatin proclaimed, the last time we paid $200 to see him speak.  He's farming one of the most fertile places on earth - the Shenandoah Valley.   Another time it was all about genetics and line breeding.  We went on a farm tour around then, and the farmer went on and on about how much line breeding has made him successful, and directed the farm tour discreetly away from the paddock with the miserable-looking animal dying of parasite infestation.

It's a very good idea, I think, not to take anyone's word for it, but see how things work for real, and be honest with yourself about it.  We had been working with an eco-agriculture company and buying expensive fertilizer that added minerals.  After a couple of years, I noticed that it had acidified the soil, and the pastures that had been fertilized were actually worse off.  I did experiments with adding lime, and saw what a big difference that made, so now we are liming.  This fall we are going to experiment with seeding different forages and adding more legumes on one of the lines.  It took me a long time to ditch the Countryside Organic's mineral lick and actually feed proper levels of copper to the animals, per Pat Colby's suggestion, but it made an immense difference in their health.  It's good to be able to be flexible and honest, and not just blunder around with whatever is fashionable.

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