Bee Friendly

So we all know that America’s bee population is declining at an alarming rate. According to the USDA Agriculture Research Service, the total number of managed honey bee colonies has gone from 5 million in the 1940s to half of that today. “At the same time, the call for hives to provide pollination services has continued to increase. This means honey bee colonies are being transported over longer distances than ever before,” (ARS).

There are many possible reasons for this decline, but it seems that a clear answer has yet to be found. Some of the possibilities scientists are looking at are pathogens, such as Nosema, described morbidly as “pathogen gut fungi,” and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (ARS). Other possible causes are management and environmental stressors, including lack of diversity of plant nectar, being shipped all over the place, and not enough access to clean water in the wild. One, some, or all of these factors have most likely caused this decline, otherwise known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD for short, (ARS).
beeAs caretakers of the earth, we want to prevent this from continuing. The organic approach to agriculture, in my opinion, would help slow this tragic loss. We depend on bees for pollination and without them we would be in a bad state, let me tell you. According to the ARS, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.” They contribute billions to our country’s agricultural production annually!
That being said, I recently became aware of the fact that not all organic methods of farming are bee-friendly. Organic farmers are allowed to use a list of approved substances for fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation listed some of these substances and rated them as “Non-Toxic,” “Low Toxicity,” and “Highly Toxic,” in reference to the bee’s well-being. I will list them here for you:toxicity table
I, personally, was surprised that some of the approved practices for organic farming could be part of the cause of CCD! I’m beginning to become aware of the fact that there are two groups of organic growers. There’s the group the truly cares for the environment and then there’s the group that is just trying to capitalize on the new up-and-coming organic food trend. Then again, I know there are others out there like me who had no idea that even organic methods can be bad for bees, as well as countless other insects, however I really see my future farming adhering to Sir Albert Howard’s strict definition of what organic means. “The system (or growing production) ‘having a complex but necessary interrelationship of parts, similar to that in living things’,” (Heckman). The earth is made of a myriad of complex systems, each relying on the other to do what it does best. When one part of the large-scale system is damaged or suffering, it effects all the others in one way or another, so farming in a way that’s closest to being natural is always best, and be sure to read up on any substances you’re thinking of using!
Another practice that can help keep the bee population safe is conservative biological control, which basically means creating a bee and beneficial insect-friendly habitat in your yard, garden, or around the farm. Bees love lots of brightly-colored and sweet-smelling flowers! Crop diversity in general is good, not only for insects, but for our plant species as well! The concept of introducing beneficial insects is definitely better than using a chemical pesticide, but the Xerxes Society says this can be detrimental to bees due to the fact that some of these non-native insects think bees are tasty, too. Also, low/conservation tillage and avoiding the use of plastic mulch helps as well, as 70% of America’s bee species nest underground.
One other thing you can do to help the honey bee population is to start a hive or two or your own! The University of Tennessee offers the BeeMaster Program, a program that teaches beginners all the things you need to know to be successful. This spring it will be held on the UT Ag campus, as well as several other locations. I’ll post that link and the link for the Tennessee Beekeepers’ Association below if you are interested!

UT's BeeKeeper Program

UT’s BeeMaster program:
http://bees.tennessee.edu/beemaster.htm
Tennessee Beekeepers’ Association:
http://www.tnbeekeepers.org/

USDA Organic Info
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/organicinfo

USDA Agriculture Research Service “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.” http://www.ars.usda.gov/news/docs.htm?docid=15572

Mader, Eric. “Organic Farming Practices: Reducing Harm to Pollinators from Farming.” Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet. Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation.” http://www.xerxes.org

Heckman, J. “A History of Organic Farming: Transitions from Sir Albert Howard’s War in the Soil to USDA National Organic Program.” Aug. 20, 2005.

Transplanting Time?

This year one of the goals here on the farm (UT organic farm) is to increase yields – especially for our CSA program. High yield is the ultimate goal for all farmers whether in organic or conventional systems. One way to increase yields and get a head start on the growing season is TRANSPLANTING. Studies have shown that transplanting eliminates unhealthy seedlings from crop/field production. Crops produced from transplant often lead to early yields, uniformity in growth sizes, and better weed control than direct seeding. There is a definite advantage in growing one’s own transplant as to purchasing. Purchasing cutback on greenhouse fuel and labor costs. Well, what if you do not have a greenhouse and instead of purchasing, you intend to produce your own transplants. The following is a “do it yourself” list for transplant production in organic farming/gardening:

1. Set your budget
2. Select crop varieties for growing season
3. Purchase certified organic seeds
4. Design a pre-test for seed germination (place a number of seeds
on a damped paper towel and place in a cool area)
5. Select the proper potting mix, NOT soil – certified organic
peat or other soil-less mixes (this allows for aeration,
germination, water holding capacity, etc)
6. Container for seedlings – seedling flats
7. Watering seeds demands high attention (avoid over and
under watering seeds)
8. Know the transplant age, growth stage, and possibly ideal
growth temperature of your crop selections (e.g. tomatoes:
transplant age 5-7wks, at growth stage ready to transplant,
must have buds but, no flowers, and temperature for day 75
degrees and night 65 degrees)
9. Keep potted seedlings in controlled environment at proper
temperatures during the days and nights

Happy Seedlings Awaiting TransplantTransplanting comes with so many advantages that benefits the farmer and the crops such as: enhanced uniformity for better growth, weather adaptation, reduce input costs compared to direct-seedling, decrease weeds, fast turnaround time, minimize labor cost (highly important), and lastly, less seeds usage – which reduce cost on seeds.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

I recently attended the 23rd annual SSAWG conference held in Mobile, AL. This conference is a great networking and educational tool for beginning and seasoned farmers. Topics range from starting a small farm, understanding farm policies, how to maximize yields and profits, creating farm to school programs, high tunnel production, cattle management, insect identification and control, and understanding the biodynamics of a farm system. The University of TN was well represented and many colleges and universities were very interested in our internship program, and how we help to grow young farmers while feeding the Knoxville community.

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At the end of every conference, a dinner is held to acknowledge the accomplishments of the sustainable movement and areas of improvement.

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I am already looking forward to next year’s conference which will again be held in Mobile, AL. Hope to see you there!

Concepts and Themes in Design – Permaculture Course

Originator of the Permaculture Concept, literally denoting permanent agriculture, is Australian agriculturalist, educator, and permaculture pioneer, Bill Mollison. His contributions in the area of agricultural design and processes have given rise to many concepts that focus on developing a sustainable agriculture in all varieties of setting and climate. Permaculture not only encompasses the culture of soils and plant life, but it pays attention to all aspects of human interaction with the natural environment, such as housing, transport, community design, etc, which all spring from the idea that resources should be conserved within intentionally designed systems; much like the traditional concepts involved in organic agriculture.

In this video of one of his classes taught at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Mollison draws from his experiences with aboriginal people among other things to express major concepts and major themes in design that one should think of when implementing an intentionally sustainable system of agriculture. Mollison notes the importance of experimentation and continuous attention to natural rhythms, geometry, and other mathematical concepts that allow the designer to create something better than what is conventionally accepted. The video is set in the classroom with Mollison using a chalkboard to aid in his lecture. His ideas and stories are fascinating and intriguing in my opinion!

Life in the dead of Winter

I still can’t believe the single digit temperatures we received earlier this week. Although it would seem that all plants would be dead or dormant this time of year, there are some plants that continue to grow, slowly. While walking around the Market Garden today, I removed some of the straw mulch covering the garlic.  Since garlic is a biennial, you must plant the individual bulbs in the fall in order to harvest in early summer. We planted our garlic in mid-November and I was worried we were too late. Ideally, I would have planted the garlic bulbs in mid-October but as most of you know, plans constantly change when gardening.  Fortunately, garlic shoots were poking out of the soil! I was relieved and excited.

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As temperatures begin to warm in late February and early March, we will begin to remove the mulch to allow the garlic shoots to take in all the available sunlight. This time of year can feel like an eternity as you prepare for spring planting, but you must wait for the cold blanket of winter to be removed. This is also a great time to attend state and/or regional conferences, and to do as much crop research as possible. Bulk up on all the information you can handle to prepare yourself for another growing season.

-Jeff

 

Happy New Year!

We are busy preparing for another season in East TN. We have about all the seed for the spring season and are eager to begin planting in the greenhouse in the coming weeks.

I have taken the reigns from the previous Manager, Mary Rogers.  She did an excellent job forming this program and I am excited to continue to grow this program.

2014 marks our 5th year of our Market Garden Project! The Farmer’s Market has continued to grow and we ran our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program in 2013. We look forward to growing our CSA and have received great feedback from our previous members.

There are five new interns this season and I am looking forward to working and learning with them throughout the season. Their diverse backgrounds and knowledge should be a great asset this year.

-Jeff