The Joys of Mulching

On Friday I got to go out to the farm and start really digging in to some prep work for the season ahead as we began mulching. It’s fun work that allows you to develop your sense of connection to the land underfoot. When done by hand, with straw bales, as we did it is very conscious work. You can’t spread things as you please, and you must be very careful as you go up and down the already planted rows. Though it may appear so to viewers on the outside, it’s incredibly engaging work. To feel the materials in your hands, putting it down to the ground and walking over top mulch that has already been put down, all the while catching hints of all the new and different smells that are coming in with this early spring. It can truly put you in the moment, and you can get a lot done when you’re not thinking about what comes next in the day. Here are the rows post-mulch:

But mulching isn’t just something you do to pass the time or to make your garden more aesthetically pleasing. Mulching has a multitude of useful positive aspects, especially in organic vegetable production. First and foremost, it boosts Soil Organic Matter, which is especially important for keeping soils healthy and productive over time as it helps to retain moisture and nutrients. Mulching also helps to retain moisture in the soil as it cuts off the amount of surface area of soil reached by the sun, and helps to reduce evaporation. By providing that cover for the soil, it also helps to reduce erosion. Probably one of the most important of these positive properties are the reductions in pest and weed populations in the system, saving a lot of time, money, and stress for any perspective farmer. So if you’re hoping for increased production in the short term and healthy soils in the long run mulching is a great healer of the earth and of the soul.


Spring is Underway

Things at the farm are underway. This is the student garden’s third year and one would hope we have some idea of what we’re doing by now. March and April are the  exciting part of the season for me, when enthusiasm for transplanting and comfortable temperature make for quick work. It’s nice to finally be working outside again. The spring field has been tilled and the cover crop that had occupied the land over winter is breaking down and releasing its beautiful nutrients all up in our soil. The green matter will be given some time to decay and root clods to break down before intensive planting begins. Some things are in the ground already.

Green onions and beets have been planted and lettuce is beginning to go in the ground. These crops will be covered with row cover to prevent cold damage as the weather is still a bit unpredictable at the time. Even as temperatures increase over the course of the summer, row cover will be left over many of our spring vegetables as they are effective deterrents against pests. But for now, insects and weeds are not issues and our focus will be on getting crops in the ground. The interns were out at the farm this afternoon to get planting kohlrabi and kale. It’s a good group of people to work the fields with.

Anyway, not much to say now. Plenty of more work to do and more updates to come.


Reflections on Organic Growers School

Can you recall the city of which you always fantasized about living in? That city you may have visited last spring and your first impression was something like, “DA-A-A-NG! Why can’t my city be more like this?”  That city, which is perfect, is every aspect of the word.  For me, Asheville is one of those cities.  But, it is so idealistic that I could never imagine permanently living in Asheville. That seems to be contradictory, maybe counterintuitive; so, what do I mean?  Last summer, I remember talking with some friends back home and somehow we got on this very topic of ideal cities.  One of them, a man named Santana, argued against living in an ideal city, he said “Sure, I could go live somewhere like Bloomington or Asheville, but I would have nothing to complain about, nothing to fight for, or work towards accomplishing.  That is why I like Nashville, because the streets are still crummy, the land is still wasted, and the people still [irritate me].  It reminds me why I am here—to do my part in making this place better.”  Asheville, for many, is too good of a city, but it is an exceptional choice for inspiration.  It is a city revived through creative, sustainable methods and efficient use of urban and natural landscape (oh, and money, lots of money).   Asheville delivers inspiration as to how to incorporate my community and work towards a better tomorrow. 

It seems that everything has been done, but everything has not been incorporated everywhere.  In order to initiate the spread of progressive action there first must be a share of knowledge, like a convention of sorts. A convention, of which, that hosts lectures and workshops on sustainable practice.   A convention such as, ohhh. . . the Organic Growers School.  The 19th annual Organic Growers School was held last weekend as a conference to share the ideas of sustainable, holistic, and green-efficient living and agriculture.

ImageJust myself posing with Pat Foreman and Oprah Henfry.  I guess I’m not much for photogenic portraits.

                What exactly did I learn?

Well, for me, I unconsciously gravitated towards classes based on holistic living and resource sustainability.  I attended classes on poultry care, food preservation through fermentation, composting (in the form of human manure, traditional compost, vermicompost, and compost tea), making my own herbal and natural medicines, and sustainable agriculture through permaculture production.  It was a weekend’s worth of learning for a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and practice. 


But, let us tie in my first blog’s topic of an organic lifestyle—how exactly do I implement these skills into making a healthier Earth? Well, there were a few common themes that I picked up throughout this weekend that will help direct me towards an answer.

ImageAs I expressed in my first blog entry, organic is a lifestyle, not just an agricultural market.  To grow organic, you must start with yourself.  By dedicating to a wholesome lifestyle, the connection between land and man becomes a devotion rather than a career or practice. After all, agricultural production starts with human intervention.  Or, does it start with the soil, or the animals, or the plants?  A common theme I recognized throughout most the workshops this weekend was that life and harvest do not start from a single cue.  All life and growth are based on a cycle.  Think about it, an ecosystem, even one undisturbed by man, is never fully closed.  The life services and inhabitants are dynamic: there are changes in abiotic (natural disasters, climate, etc.) and biotic factors (introduction and emigration of new organisms, etc.).  Systems are balanced by the ability to survive with the provided resources and inhabitants’ traits adapted to utilize those qualities. Life and its cycles are dynamic and competitive; yet life is also astoundingly resourceful.

                The resilience of nature is not infinite.  Although nature recycles itself, there is an issue of excessive outputs from systems. Humans, in such dense populations, are a heavy emaciating species, the most guilty of excessive output.  This brings me to the second theme, waste.  Notable to this was the lecture I attended on human manure.  Now, when discussing human manure, it is hard to get your point across without cracking a few jokes and giggles, well, to prevent that, the class was presented in a ridiculously comical fashion.  The speaker was (Ir)reverend Bill Whipple, accompanied by his  entourage of toilet paper adorned choir.  Image

(Ir)reverend Bill and his Choir singing feces-related gospel renditions

The presentation was ludicrous, but its message was serious.  The speaker addressed how the sewage system is a concentrated, or centralized, system which requires a great amount of energy to collect, sanitize, and reincorporate back into water way systems (about 1/3 of Asheville’s energy resource goes towards water transport).   The water may be recycled into a questionable form of potable water; but, the hundreds of thousands of kilowatts derived from nonrenewable resources will not be recycled in the same state they were originally extracted.  Those mountains stripped for coal will never shadow valleys so high and those toxic fumes produced to generate the energy will continually linger in our lungs. The final message boiled down to this: why would we waste something we need (in this case water, coal, etc.)?

              But, let us come back to the original question.  What is the point of conventions such as the Organic Growers School?  What do I do with these skills that I have learned?  More to the point, how do I utilize them to better the planet and remediate that of which has been depleted from the planet? Remember how I said everything has been done, but not everything has been incorporated everywhere?  Well, that is where this knowledge comes in to place.  In order to promote a sustainable world, I must be a vector to share and practice the knowledge that I possess.  In other words, I must be one half teacher, one half preacher, and consistently practicing what I preach/teach. 

Practice is by far the most important element.  If I choose to slack off or give up, then I am choosing to forfeit everything I worked for and believed in.  That may be a tad drastic to say.  But consistent practice delivers momentum. The more exposure I have to all these things the greater my conviction and dedication will grow.  This momentum is crucial.  When I first saw all these new-age treatments and methods my first impression was, “how could I ever do this?”  But I must remember, that everything new is actually easy (to the degree of necessary labor and demand)—once you get it all going.  Once things are familiar, or routine, they become less daunting and more practical.

  In summary, integration, routinely, and discipline makes all things practical.  Knowledge is the tool, sharing knowledge is the vehicle, and practice is the proof.  Everyone wants to be a hero, but we dream on such large scale.  If you really want to improve the world, start small: start with yourself, and then evoke just one person to do the same.