Saturday, February 26, 2011

Garden Update

Chicken Egg thief gets nabbed.

We have just finished transplanting our second batch of vegetable seedlings to their garden beds.  These seeds were sown in our starter box the first of February.  We started some lettuce, bush beans, basil, cilantro, tomatoes, zucchini, snap peas, and collards.  I want to plant a few zucchini every month because they get a fungus (powdery mildew) and don't last too long no matter how healthy the plant.  I love to eat zucchini so am trying this strategy, a few plants each month.  Lettuce too, they don't get fungus, but they will bolt, get tough and leggy if they get too old.  I concentrated on planting large amounts of basil and cilantro as I love pestos and making our own salsa.

We are eating from our first batch of vegetables sown on January 1, 2011.  We have regular salads from our lettuce, zucchini several meals per week, and tones of bok-choy for stir fry.  It takes about 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting, and then about 3 to 4 more weeks for the plants to be edible and producing.

I will sew more seeds this weekend including my first batch of sweet corn for the year.  That will be exciting.

Wainaku Grass being removed from Garden Bed

Double Dug Garden ready for IMO and planting
I have been spending evenings after work preparing my outside garden beds.  Drake had used some of these beds last year and let them go natural, weeds and all.  The problem here is that we have a particularly nasty weed called "Wainaku Grass".  It sends runners deep under the soil and keeps coming up and eventually takes over the bed from underneath.  The process of reclaiming these beds is slow and painstaking.  The bed must be double dug, shovelful by shovelful, and each shovelful must be deweeded, removing the white roots by hand.  These beds had been used before with the Korean Natural method so the soil structure is excellent.  There are many many worms!

I planted a bed of basil last week into one of these outside beds.  The flat of seedlings was given to me by a friend and were not looking so healthy.   We'll see if my Korean Natural Methods can bring them back.  I did my cane chipping, IMO #4 application, and grass clipping cover on several beds last weekend.  I am trying to stay ahead with prepared beds lying in wait to receive the seedlings when ready.
Basil Seedling from Friend
Basil in IMO bed

New Bed with grass clippings, pineapple in next row

I also harvested our ginger and turmeric last weekend.  Those root crops take a year to grow.  We pulled out the roots, cleaned them, and put them on a rack to dry.  Then we placed those into a paper bag in a closet to use in cooking for the rest of the year.  I will take little pieces of that harvest and plant into beds this weekend, for harvest again next year, continuing the cycle.  We make a very flavorful and cleansing drink from Ginger & Turmeric, grating then boiling it in water and finally adding a little sweetener.

Ginger Root and Orange Turmeric

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin Protests So 1980's

As a 1978 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, I am watching the protest over Collective Bargaining rights for Public sector workers with special interest.  However,  my personal opinion is that both sides have missed the mark by about 3 decades, hence so 1980's.

When all of my elite Madison friends ( ironically children of the 60's) were busy checking into the American Dream, starting work in the Public sector and beginning families and getting mortgages, us liberals lost the most critical debate of the century, that somehow global trade was good for America.  We traded jobs for cheap China goods.  Been to Wal-Mart lately?  There isn't anything made in America anymore.  When President Obama declares in his State of the Union address that to revitalize the American economy we must out-compete and out-innovate the rest of  the globe, it sounds good and we want to believe him, but he is also living in decades past.  The most innovative American company today is probably Apple (annual sales of over $20 billion), and there isn't a single device Apple makes that is made in America.

My point is that we are in a new time.  Globalization is different from times past.  Me and my elite Madison friends rode the American Dream and lived better than most kings.  But it was fueled by cheap oil, black gold, liquid carbon energy.  Because our personal lives were doing so well, it was easy to ignore and turn a blind eye to Americas global military presence insuring our oil supply.  We have allowed the Federal Reserve print money on our behalf, borrowing into the multi-trillions, to prop up our luxurious life styles.  Globalization my friends, means this is era has past.  The other folks on the globe want their share.  The American Dream is OVER, and we need to recognize this fact.

Although collective bargaining rights of public workers might seem important, it is a mute point.  It is too LATE!   We should be focusing on how to construct community in a new economic reality.  I spent the afternoon digging a garden with a shovel.  I don't expect my savings to guarantee my retirement, like prior American generations.  When every person in China gets their share of global resources, (this is the natural extension of American liberal thought), we'll be growing our own food not arguing over collective bargaining rights.  (See past post on Economic, Math and Growing your own food.)  I'm told there isn't enough copper to construct a refrigerator for every person in China currently living on our planet.  Think you'll be enjoying the retirements you were promised????.  Think again.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sugar Cane

As I am writing this, I am drinking my favorite cocktail, one lime squeezed over ice and topped with fresh pressed sugar cane juice.  It tastes like a Mai Tai sans rum. (but that would be great too).

One year old Sugar Cane clump in our garden
So I go up to the garden, using my machete cane knife and cut five mature canes and bring them down to my outside sink & counter.  I cut these into foot long sections and split them in half rounds.  Then I put them one at a time into my hand cranked sugar cane press.  This process took about 20 minutes and produced one and a half gallons of sugar cane juice.  The volume of juice is much more than people expect.  Besides my favorite cocktail, I use sugar cane juice as the base liquid for our morning smoothies.  No more purchased store bought fruit juices for us.

canes ready to press
insert cane and crank handle
fresh squeezed juice

Growing sugar cane is easy.  Simply put a mature piece of cane, 18 inches or so, at an angle into the ground about half buried, half in the air.  The eyes will sprout, the roots will grow.  A year later there will be a clump of sugar cane.  I don't fertilize, but I do use IMO's when planting, mulch the soil and occasionally spray with the Cho self made sprays.  But these plants need little if any care.

Sugar cane juice is a great source of minerals and vitamins.  Every teaspoon of raw sugar cane contains about 4 g of carbohydrates. Raw sugar cane is free from fats, cholesterol, proteins and sodium. But it contains significant amount of vitamin C,  vitamin B2 (riboflavin), magnesium, iron, potassium and phosphorus. Raw sugar cane calories are only around 15, while a teaspoon of raw sugar cane contains about 4 g of glucose (sugar), which is the healthiest form of sugar.  It is also alkaline by nature.

I chip sugar cane with my wood chipper when preparing gardens.  IMO's like sugars, so when I prepare a bed I'll chip enough cane to put about a half inch of cane mulch over the entire garden bed.  Then I add IMO #4.  This kick starts the growth of the micro-organisms in the soil.   They like food.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Hen and Jay

Today I picked up a half dozen eggs from my chicken pen.  I have about 13 hens and 2 roosters (Jay and Conan).  I am raising them using the Korean Natural Farming method.  No foul smell.  Delicious nutritious eggs.

I started about a two years ago, with a few chicks I ordered from a Texas hatchery.  They came via the US mail in a small cardboard box.  I put them into a small area I constructed out of chicken wire and a pvc frame.  Several key features of the Cho method is the floor is IMO soil, which allows the feces to ferment and break down without odor.  When the chicks arrived I only feed them uncooked brown rice grains for the first few days to elongate their intestines making their digestion system more efficient.

I constructed a tent area for the adults, circular centered on a tall post about 18 feet in diameter.   This is a shaded area for them, dry out of the rain, where they roost at night, get fed and where I've placed their laying house.  This tent is within a triangle open area where they free range and catch insects.  It is inclosed by chicken wire and bird netting suspended on a cable 10 feet high.  The chickens are happy in this area.

Tent for sleeping and shade

Eggs in hen house

Cho feeder trough

Hen house
PVC watering system

I feed them once per day 30% greens, 30% kitchen scrapes and fruit ( we have lots of papaya and banana), 30% store bought grains and protein pellets, and 10% IMO #4 dirt.  I am working on eliminating the store bought portion by raising black soldier flies ( the most efficient way to convert vegetable scrapes into protein, ).  Later this summer I intend to dig/create a pond to raise tilapia fish to use as protein for both the chickens and my family.  This should eliminate dependance on outside inputs.

I'll explain a couple of items unique to the Cho system.  The feeder box is a long tray where the birds can line up on either side and has a wooden bar across the top which spins freely preventing chickens from standing in the feeder or standing on the bar.  This trough keeps the birds from fighting over the food at feeding time.  The laying house provides a nice secure dark area for the hens to lay their eggs while giving easy access to the human collecting the eggs.  The floor under the tent roof is dirt, and I spread IMO#4 several times per month to eliminate any oder and have the microbes breakdown the chicken feces.  The watering trough is constructed out of 3 inch PVC with 1 inch circular holes drilled along the top for the birds beaks to access the water.  I sometimes put Cho water soluble calcium in their water to strengthen their egg shells.

Mongoose are natural predators of chickens and their eggs so I have an ongoing trapping program.  I use a small cage trap setting it outside the pen and bait it with one chicken egg.  When I catch one (lately a daily occurrence), I place the trap in a cooler of water to drown it.  I bury the mongoose under my banana clumps.  They make great fertilizer.

Occasionally I'll eat a chicken. They are quite tasty.  Much better than store bought.   I catch it, hang it upside down by their feet with a thin cord slip knot, then slit their juggler vein with a sharp knife.  They bleed to death within several minutes.  I then place them in a just boiled pot of water for about two minutes to loosen their feathers.  The feathers then pull off very easily and in a few minutes work their skin looks just like the store bought chicken you buy at the store.  The next step is to gut them or remove their organs, this is very much like gutting a fish.  Now they are ready for your favorite chicken recipe, but oooh they are so fresh and you don't have to worry about anti-biotics, added hormones or any other crazy thing modern agribusiness systems do to our food supply.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Preparing our Garden Beds

We are blessed with very deep soil.  It is former sugar cane land that has had cows grazing on it for the last dozen years.  It is red clay, very acidic with a pH of about 5.1 and is depleted of nutrients and organic matter.  It is a unique soil type that has extreme drainage capacity.   Average rainfall here is over 180 inches per year (15 feet) and we never see standing water.  Lately climate change has halved that rainfall total.

Double Dug with dolomite ready to mix in

So how do I start to prepare an area for a garden?  First. I double dig the soil.  That means digging down one shovel in depth, then digging down a second shovel depth.  The clay is so thick and sticky that I have to knock the dirt off the shovel blade, then chop up the dirt clod into smaller particles, shovel full by shovel full.  I typically dig a bed about 4 feet wide so I can get to the center without stepping on the bed itself.  I add dolomite lime to sweeten our acidic soil, then mix this in thoroughly.  Dolomite adds both calcium and magnesium, essential elements for balanced plant growth

chipped sugar cane
grass clipping prevent weeds
thin layer of IMO #4 
horse manure over cane chips

We have sugar cane growing wild around our property in the gulches.  I cut some cane and chipped it with my wood chipper.  This adds organic material and has the added benefit of containing sugars, which are food to the IMO's. One could use compost instead. If I have any mature compost piles available, I would mix those into the soil, trying to attain approximately 16% organic material in my soil.  I spread the cane chips several inches thick over the bed, then added a couple of trash cans full of horse manure on top of the bed (my neighbor has horses and each week I get one trash can of horse manure when they clean the stalls).   Then I added IMO #4 (explained in a previous post) at about one half inch thick.  I topped all of this off with a layer of lawn clippings to protect the IMO #4 from the sun (mortal enemy of IMO) and to prevent weeds from sprouting.  Then I watered and let sit for a couple of weeks before transplanting zucchini seedlings into the bed.

abundant harvest, healthy plants, no fertilizers

In five to six weeks I had more zucchini than we could eat.  Fresh steamed zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini soup.  It was overwhelming!

This season I won't till or shovel the soil.  The worms and old plant roots have created a fertile oxygen rich growing zone with plenty of organic material.  I'll just add a layer of chipped cane, horse manure, and IMO #4, topped with grass clipping and then plant vegetable seedlings.  Every couple of weeks I spray some of Master Cho's natural home made potions on my edible plants, but that's it.  No fertilizers, no NPK.  I'll talk about how to make these different spays in future posts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Worms are Key to Natural Farming

Worms are the sign of soil health.  They dig holes so oxygen gets to your plant roots.  They turn organic material into vermicompost and leave worm castings, a very rich soil nutrient.  These are earth worms.  The more the merrier.  When I stick my hand into my garden beds and see lots of earth worms, I know my vegetables will thrive.

Worm Farm

Pictured above is our small scale vermicompost farm.  It is a hotel for our composting worms.  These are different from soil worms.  The primary job of compost worms is composting. Perionyx excavatus worms, for example, are small, red- purple worms that prefer an environment of decaying organic matter rather than soil. Compost worms reproduce quickly, consume large amounts of organic material, and tolerate the environment of a worm bin. 

Jennifer and I put fine cut kitchen waste and shredded newspaper into the top layer of the farm several times per week.  The worms quickly turn it into worm castings that we use as fertilizer or as the base for creating aerated compost tea.  The worms keep moving up to the higher layer to eat the new food.  By the time the top shelf is full, the bottom shelf is pure worm castings and has been vacated by the worms.  The benefits of aerated compost tea include: "helps suppress foliar diseases", "increases the amount of nutrients available to the plant", and "speeds the breakdown of toxins". It's "even been shown to increase the nutritional quality and improve the flavor of vegetables".

The bottom pan collects the leachate (liquid) that we spray onto our gardens.  It repels insects, diseases and makes everything we spray it on bloom.  Jennifer's orchids are so healthy and full of blooms.  We don't need fungicides or insecticides, like she used to need when she fertilized them with chemical fertilizers like "miracle-grow".

A couple of good articles for vermicomposting are:


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Math, Economics & Ability to Grow Your Own Food

I am NOT a doom and gloomer.  I am a REALIST.  This is math, not hysteria.  I am interpreting the real life implications of measurable things.  Knowing how to produce food will soon be a critical skill.

Prices are determined by the intersection of supply and demand curves.  This is math.  The most important supply and demand curves for our planet today are FINITE resources & INFINITE growth of economic systems (capitalism, communism  or you name it ).  Prices will rise to allocate scarce resources. The problem is the demand curve is very steep, caused by a global population explosion and increased consumption of developing economies (China, India, etc...).  And the supply curve has already headed downward (peak oil, peak resources).  This means prices will not move gently, but rapidly.

This is the first time in human history these two curves have intersected (green dot).  For the first time the demand for our planets resources have out paced the supply.   Because we are at or beyond peak resources, the blue line sets the supply limit.  Yet the red demand line goes up and up, beyond the supply of the planets resources.  This is uncharted territory, but the math is clear.  Prices will rise to allocate scarce resources and reconcile the difference between the two curves denoted in yellow.  As the difference between the two curves increases, the increase in prices will be greater.

Who knows how this will play out in the global political arena?  But the signs of this mathematical truth are all around us today.  Food riots in developing countries are already common place.  The graph below illustrates how this has impacted our pocketbook in just the last 12 months.  The math tells us it will get much worse, much more rapidly.

This blog is intended to document my personal journey and to help  others gain the knowledge to produce your own food naturally.  Moreover, growing food naturally and being in harmony with natures systems is tremendously spiritually rewarding.  So enjoy the journey.  Share love.

PS. I created the charts pictured above.  The supply / demand curve is an original creation, so please excuse it's crude chalkboard look.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Transplanting Veggie Seedlings on Jan 31, 2011

I transplanted most of the seedlings into two of our greenhouses on Sunday.   Those seedling were the result of Jennifer and I planting seeds into our germination bed on New Years Day 2011.  Some germinated, others did not.  None of our soy beans germinated as well as two varieties of lettuce.  However  we had very good germination with our Kale,  Chinese Cabbage, Bok Choy, Romaine Lettuce and Green Crunch Lettuce, and Cilantro.  I had transplanted a few zucchini and bush beans two weeks earlier because they grew faster than the other seedlings.

A few Kale seedlings yet to be transplanted

This germination bed is made with two by fours and chicken wire stapled to the frame.  We put a thin layer of newspaper on the wire, then add 3 1/2 inches of compost soil.  Then we plant the seeds and cover with a thin layer of light peat moss (Pro Mix).  The bench is elevated on several concrete blocks so it's difficult for ground critters get to them.  Not shown is the cover to protect against mice which is just the identical frame with a finer mesh wire on top.

Newly transplanted seedlings in greenhouses

The greenhouse beds were prepared several months in advance of transplanting.  This one was not tilled.  It had vegetables planted in it last year.  I just cleared off all the surface vegetation and left the soil alone.  I put on about a half inch of IMO#4 and a trash can of horse manure over the entire bed then mulched with about 8 inches of grass clippings to prevent weeds from germinating.  I did not water the greenhouse for a month which also prevented weed germination.  I commenced watering several days prior to transplanting.  To plant the seedlings I just poked a hole in the mulch, moved a bit of dirt with a trowel and placed the seedling into the hole.  It was so cool to see the IMO#4 working under the mulch.  I watered in the new transplants and look forward to seeing them grow and soon to eat them!  Jen and I will replant the germination bed this weekend.