bertrandfarm

…Come Grow With Us!

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

The Virtues and Misfortunes of Weeds

Weeds are an interesting concept to me. They have the misfortune of having incurred our wrath. They are virtuous because of their role in protecting the soil, as desolate ground is quickly covered and its life support system restored in a matter of days. Unwanted, abundant or wayward plants with no use to us humans are intriguing, because I am constantly on the lookout for ways to work with them. I believe that every organism has a function that, if removed from the web of life, would cause the whole thing to come to a screeching halt. So I tread this line between the ideal world of harmony with all natural things, and the practical world of having to protect our crop from being overtaken. Perhaps the weeds can sense my confusion, and are trying ever harder to show me their true colors. I am watching carefully, and so far have found a few items of interest. Our most common resident, mugwort, has proved to be a moderately valuable herb. it can be used as an insect repellent either as an incense or added to animal bedding to prevent pests. The leaves and flowers are used to flavor oriental dishes. The pigs consider it a tasty treat.  I have also heard that we can stuff it into pillows as a sleep and dream aid. The plant was revered by the ancients for all of these properties, and I for one believe it is time for a comeback. This idea applies to all ‘weeds’. With the right information, we can find uses and make connections between all plants and animals. But we still have to keep them at bay if we want to obtain a yield. They have their place just like any other life form.

Animal Parade

Find out why we close up the animals at night and then see how happy they are each morning to stampede out.

Beating the Summer Heat

With Temps soaring in the 90’s and humidity putting the heat index above 100 we have to pay special attention to the animals, especially the pigs.Keeping them cool can be a life or death matter.

Last week’s heat is not missed at all by the pigs (or by us). Check out our pigs dealing with last weeks temperature highs.

Those aren’t rocks!

During one of my evening walks the other day, I stumbled across some little white bumps on the ground. I stopped short and squatted down for closer inspection, only to find that they were tiny edible  puffball mushrooms.

They're mushrooms! Edible, but tiny.

They’re mushrooms! Edible, but tiny.

It got me thinking that we really have a great diversity of fungi here on the farm. I see different types all of the time and want to identify them, but sadly I don’t have my field guide.  They are important organisms to pay attention to, because they are very specific in their tolerances and so can tell us a whole lot about whats happening in our soil and with the weather.  The added benefit of knowing about fungi is for production. Some produce high quality, valuable, edible mushrooms. Other types of fungi form relationships with plants in the soil to the benefit of both parties. And, sadly, the most common knowledge about these organisms comes from fungal pathogens on our crop plants. However, I am here to say that fungi do much more good for us than we usually realize. The soil fungi that live with plant roots really have it made. They form a sheath around the roots and extend a vast network of mycelium(like tiny roots) to areas of the soil that plants cannot reach. In exchange for sugars from photosynthesis, the fungi give the plant water, phosphorous and trace minerals.

Read more…

Harvesting on the Farm

In this video I show you some of the people who harvest with us and how they bring it all in.

Supporting Monroe Park Grocery Co-op

Flush with green… lettuce that is!

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Sometimes the farm is just so good to us that we have more than we need.  On days like these we sell our fresh organic produce at a  discount to the Monroe Park Grocery Co-op.  We are proud to be able to support their mission to provide healthy food in local  food desert areas.

This past week, for example, lettuce grew nearly as fast as we could pick it!  About 20 pounds of lettuce, 10 pounds of strawberries, 5 pounds of snap peas, and some Swiss chard went to the Co-op to feed Monroe co-op members.  We feel blessed that we are able to help, and we are so thankful for those who support us because it allows all of this to happen.

You can find out more about the Monroe Park Grocery Co-op at

http://monroeparkgrocerycoop.blogspot.com/

http://www.examiner.com/article/monroe-park-grocery-co-op-a-great-way-to-get-affordable-organic-food

I got the chance to visit the Co-op for a drop off this week.  Here are a couple pictures I took there.

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Moving Chicks (and Turkeys)

John walks through moving the chicks and baby turkeys from the front yard to the back pasture, now that they are big enough to thrive out there.

On the Use of Goats

I used to think that I didn’t like goats. My childhood memories of voracious petting zoo goats plowing through the cracked corn in my palm right down to the skin without courtesy or sympathy( you can tell this really affected me for a while) told me that goats were animals to steer clear of. Thankfully its still possible to keep an open mind these days and my experience with the two goats here at Bertrand Farm have rewired my brain to appreciate and enjoy working with these animals. I am even beginning to believe that I was a goatherd in a former life. Every evening I make a point to spend time with them. I usually walk out past their quarters and they know its time to forage. They follow me as I lead them to a spot that needs some weeds suppressed and there they go, eating away at the living salad of an invasive tomato family plant and some mugwort, and wild mustard. They even helped me find a new edible weed. its a mustard but it tastes very strongly of horseradish, its quite good as a garnish. They seem to prefer these wild invasives to grass and clover when in abundance and in good company. I think they feel safe in my presence, or they just know they will get attention for being good goats.

At the very least, these goats are useful and full of surprises. When put to the right task they are extremely useful and can turn toil and strife into profit and enjoyment of life. When faced with a problem, they are crafty and display incredible intelligence(though this is a euphemism in some cases). I had been reading that goats will eat almost anything green, which can be a blessing or a burden depending on how we use this habit. I have been reading a lot about some innovative people using goats to clear invasive vegetation from an overgrown area, leaving behind ‘plant-accessible nutrients'(manure), and then planting a food forest succession on the spot. The corners of our pasture could use a little rejuvenation, and I think grazing the goats there intensively could be the first step to creating a nice tree garden on each of the four. It could provide shade, forage and support diversity all at once. Here is a picture of  one of our residents happily working for us, though I don’t think she sees it that way.

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One of our Boer goats munching pasture weeds

Re-Purposing

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Hello, Chris here. I want to share with you some of the things that we are doing at Bertrand Farm as we continue to make progress in adopting the FSSD framework, provided by The Natural Step. As we move forward in sustainability, one of our guiding objectives is to reduce and eliminate our contribution of things that persist in nature, like garbage and greenhouse gases. One of our goals is to stop creating garbage that will eventually go the landfill. Another goal is to eliminate the greenhouse cases that our farming creates. While these goals of ours are going to be challenging, I think with a strategic approach, we can make a lot of progress in reducing and eliminating our contribution of things that persist in nature.

One of our strategies is to repurpose things, rather than throw them away. This strategy is perhaps the most important because it requires us to keep in mind how an item can be used for its entire life, before we buy it. A lot of items are made to be used once and then thrown away or recycledhoop house 2. While recycling is a better option than throwing stuff away, it isn’t a good solution for trash accumulation. The problem is that recycled items are most often made into items that are not recyclable. Our strategy is to rethink how boxes for season extensionitems can be reused, even if they are recyclable.  We have lots of examples of this at the farm. Plastic is probably the easiest material to repurpose because it does not erode, it cuts easily and it is flexible, while remaining strong and durable. We reuse plastic PVC pipe for hoops in our garden beds. Since the pipes bend easy, it is ideal for our new use. We also reuse planting containers because they work well for our reuse as seed starting trays. The plastic cover for our small greenhousehoop greenhouse is going to need to be replaced within a few years. We hope that it is going to last a few more years but the useful life for the plastic was 5 years when it was bought. As it ages, parts of it can tear easy because the plastic becomes less flexible and it loses its elasticity. Instead of recycling all of the plastic, we plan to reuse it by making a couple of smaller greenhouses.

Another strategy to reducing and eliminating things that persist in nature is to replace things that do not break down naturally with things that do break down naturally. This is a very important concept for our organic farm. In many ways we already are reducing our contribution of greenhouse gasses by using organic farming methods. While there are several greenhouse gases, our focus is to reduce as many as we can. There are two greenhouse gases in particular that

 we can reduce greatly through organic farming, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. Did you know that nitrous oxide persists in nature for 120 years and carbon dioxide persists for 50-200 years according to the EPA? Organic farming methods use organic material that is tilled underground to build up nitrogen in the soil. Conventional farming methods add nitrogen to the soil by spraying ammonia onto the soil itself. Between the two methods, the organic method contributes much less nitrous oxide to the atmosphere because the organic material decomposes underground, thus capturing the nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel is another greenhouse gas that we are reducing with the intent of eliminating. We create carbon dioxide by using fossil fuels for energy. One of our future goals is to have solar panels that sustain our energy needs. We also create carbon dioxide when we use gasoline or natural gas for fuel. Some of the ways that we are reducing our need for gasoline is by buying local resources, like animal feed. As you can see from this EPA chart, most of our atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from our burning fossil fuels in machines like our cars or our tractor. Also, a large part the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere comes from electricity use, because fossil fuel is burnt to make electricity. Currently, we are reducing our electrical dependence by being good stewards and forming good habits, like shutting off the lights when we don’t need them on. By having good habits like these, we can reduce our need for electricity.  This is also an important step in becoming solar dependant, with solar panels. Solar panels do not create unlimited electricity, and having a lifestyle that uses good stewarding habits is important for us in making the transition to becoming more sustainable.

For more information on greenhouse gasses, their longevity in the atmosphere and the sources that they come from, please see the EPA website.

Maintaining the Crops

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cuc’s and zuc’s growing

Plants help us grow, and here at Bertrand Farm, we help plants grow! With this summer sun and recent rains, plant-life is thriving. So are pests and disease, oh my! We are checking each of our plantings weekly with an eye for ripe foods, weed pressure, and damage. As the raspberries ripen, we pick them! When grasses pop up around the pear trees and begin to seed, we chop ’em down with a sickle! When the kale leaves are nibbled by cabbage moths, we spray them with an organic bug repellent (active ingredient: pyrethrin, found in geraniums). Thus goes the work of maintaining the

eggplant

insect damage on eggplant

crops.

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Our first and favorite way to conquer insects is to pick them off (and feed them to the chickens).

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