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5 Farming Myths

Myth 1. What you don’t know won’t hurt you.

Chemicals are all around us daily, and we can’t always do anything about that, but what you grow is totally yours to control. Manufactured chemicals can often make plants appear very healthy but there can be harmful residues and currently unknown health or environmental impacts could result from their use. We just don’t know. Are you willing to gamble?

Myth 2. Pesticides are targeted to the specific pest and don’t hurt the other bugs and soil organisms.

Applying almost any sort of substance that attempts to kill one kind of insect has collateral damage and harms others as well. Birds may consume insects already poisoned but not yet dead. Applicator error can result in spray drift, thus impacting a wider area than planned. The balance of fungi, bacteria, microorganisms, worms etc. in the soil is usually negatively impacted during any pesticide application just like our bodies are when we take an antibiotic.

Myth 3.You have to apply pesticides to get any harvest and make any money

Manufactured inputs cost you money. You have to go to the store and buy them. Many garden chemicals are made from petroleum based products, which are generally expensive to purchase and expensive to the environment when we extract them for our use. Pesticides must be appropriately stored and disposed of, and require equipment to apply, generating more costs.

Myth 4.You need heavy machinery to manage the hard work of farming

Using natural farming methods like no till help to keep alive non-mechanized farming techniques and knowledge that were commonly known not long ago in our history but have declined in recent years with the onset of huge mechanized farms. You can manage your soil so that you never till, it is never uncovered and isn’t full of weeds. But that’s another post 🙂

Myth 5. You must aerate soil by tillage or it will compact

When you first till you artificially introduce a large influx of oxygen and rotting cut up roots, which will support a sudden wave of growth in the microorganisms which thrive on these inputs, and then potentially a die off of that population surge once the soil settles. This can throw the balance of all soil life out of whack. Compaction is really caused by leaving soil uncovered because no roots exist to provide the structure soil requires to channel water effectively while leaving tiny air spaces open. Compaction is also caused by driving on the soil with heavy machinery to do the tillage in the first place.

Heirloom Apple Blossoms Photo

New Apples From Old!

Heirloom Apple Blossoms Photo

Gnarled Old Apple Trees

I love my gnarled old apple trees. They were already old when I moved to my farm, and now they have a couple more decades on them. My first reaction was to prune the heck out of them, but they did not like that at all and pouted for a couple years. They spent their energy on growing literally thousands of new, kind of weak branches, and no apples. Afraid I had almost killed them with kindness, I vowed to leave them alone and just accept any apples they decided to grace me with.

It worked, and after a few years they began producing again. The apples are different types, and I get them from July to October! Now, I don’t do much pruning (yay!!) but that means I mostly get apples on the outside of the trees only, because the growth is so thick in the centre.  One tree died off, and I started to think about how I could preserve these wonderful trees.

Holding On To The Heirlooms

Last fall I gathered a bunch of seeds while making applesauce. I’m very excited to try and start them! Apples don’t produce the same tree as the parent when grown from seed. While it is an exciting chance to discover the next great apple variety, it doesn’t help me hold onto these heirlooms.

Air Layering

Next idea: air layering some branches to start new trees from the old. This is my special project for 2017! Check back for updates on my progress with this garden project.

Heirloom Apple Trees photo

 

Chlorine is not just for the pool

Chlorine is present in our environment today often at levels considered a contaminant. However, it is essential for plant to open and close its stomates, or pores, and for electrical activity within cells. It is quite important to setting fruit and overall plant growth.

Deficiency can be suspected if you see yellow leaves that subsequently die and fall off, accompnied by a complete lack of fruit set and overall stunted growth. It is supplied naturally by the atmosphere, which moves it from the oceans to water around the world as rain and snow. Because the concentration of chlorine in the rain and snow is variable there is a remote possibility to have a deficient soil.

To correct a deficiency
  • add Bromine to the soil, which can support plant use of Chlorine

Chlorine can build up in the soil like any salt. Too much can show as burned leaf margins and tips, bronzed leaves that turn yellow and fall off.

To offset an excess
  • by leaching with salt free water
  • increasing the sand content of soil to facilitate the movement of water
  • planting plants that use high amounts of chlorine, such as tomatoes

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

Nitrogen and why you should care about it

Nitrogen is most important in plants for vegetative growth and chlorophyll production, which of course is what makes plants green.

 

If the older leaves are thin, small and pale, and the plant develops very woody stems then the plant may require nitrogen. Left uncorrected, the problem spreads to the fruit which becomes spiny, deformed and short.

    To correct a nitrogen deficiency

  • add composted manure
  • plant with peas and beans to fix nitrogen into the soil from the atmosphere

 

Small yellowish spots on the leaves that get bigger until only the leaf veins are left green may indicate too much nitrogen present. In this case you will see initially see thick strong stems with rich green curled leaves that grow closely spaced on them, along with many side shoots and tendrils.

    Too much nitrogen can be corrected by

  • heavy irrigation
  • keeping the plants cool in order to reduce transpiration
  • plant heavy feeding plants like lettuce

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

Zinc is important

Zinc is present in several plant enzymes and is required in photosynthesis.

Zinc deficiency can arise when the soil pH is too high and adversely affects zinc uptake. High phosphorous or calcium levels can impact uptake as well as copper, magnesium, manganese and iron. Deficiency symptoms begin on the lowest leaves and are subtle. There will be slightly paler areas between the veins that become worse over time while veins remain green, the space between where leaves come out of the stem is shortened up and leaves become small.

To correct a deficiency
  • Spraying with zinc sulphates can correct a zinc deficiency

Too much zinc can happen from multiple causes including proximity to mines or smelters, runoff water from galvanized building frames and contamination of water from galvanized pipes. Plants in soil with too much of this nutrient will have a very deep dark green vein colour that will eventually become blackened. Young leaves will develop yellow-green colour between the veins, which later turn completely yellow. Growth is stunted then stops, and yellow leaves develop dead patches and fall off. Too much of this nutrient is difficult to correct.

To offset an excess
  • adding lime
  • adding phosphorous

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

 

Boron sounds boring, but your plants will love it

Boron is required by plants for cell division and formation of the plant’s growing points, also called grower’s tips. It is best if it is continuously supplied.

Deficiency of boron can be seen in the oldest leaves on the lower half of the plant becoming brittle and yellowed, and the grower’s tips dying back. Older leaves will be cupped upwards and stiff. Young leaves will be malformed and have prominent veins. Fruits are shortened and have cracks in their skins. Roots will have enlarged tips and will be black. Symptoms will appear around the first harvest.

To correct a deficiency of Boron
  • raise the ratio of organic matter to sand
  • lower the soil pH by adding Sulfur
  • add borax to the soil

Too much boron will show up in the oldest leaves with them cupping downwards and turning yellow and eventually expanding into dead spots between veins. The leaves can also become more circular shaped. If this condition is not corrected then the plant’s growth will be stunted with very few female flowers developing.

To offset excessive Boron
  • Heavy leaching can be used to remove some boron
  • add lime if the soil is acidic

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

Copper pennies may be gone in Canada

Copper is necessary for photosynthesis and respiration.

Plants that are deficient in this nutrient will have yellow faded blotches that later turn a bronze or dull colour between veins on the oldest leaves, and later on the whole plant. The leaves will be small and the plant will be dwarfed. Flowers and buds decrease and fruits are poorly developed and are marred by sunken brown areas on their skin. Deficiency is mainly seen if there is too much peat in the soil, due to high pH reducing availability.

To correct a deficiency
  • Copper sulfate can be added to correct a deficiency but extreme care should be taken as too much copper can make the soil unfit for vegetable cultivation

Toxicity can result from using sprays of some fungicides, or even from plumbing used in the growing system.

To offset excessive Copper
  • Heavy liming can help remove some copper toxicity

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

Manganese sounds exotic, doesn’t it?

Manganese is required in very small quantities, found in enzymes used in photosynthesis and in the production of a plant hormone called auxin. Plants use this nutrient to remove hydrogen peroxide from within cells.

Iron toxicity can indicate manganese deficiency, which will show on new growth with the leaf margins becoming paler to yellow with the veins remaining green, with dead or dying lesions spotted across them. Distinctive sunken white areas start to appear.

To correct a deficiency
  • ensuring there is not an excess of iron

Toxicity will show up on the older leaves first, which will have pale green/yellow areas between the veins which turn red-brown. Purple spots can be seen on the petioles, stems and the leaf underside veins. Excessive manganese can cause iron deficiency.

To offset excessive Manganese
  • foliar sprays of manganese sulfate
  • ensure pH levels are not too high

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

 

Iron makes plants strong

Iron is required for photosynthesis, but in minute quantities, and helps move energy within the plant through respiration and metabolism. It can be found within enzymes and proteins and is used for nitrogen fixation. It is especially important to celery, cabbage, beets, alfalfa, beans, asparagus, cauliflower, soy, barley, sorghum, spinach, tomatoes and strawberries, rye grass, oats and Brussels sprouts.

Iron deficiency will show up on the leaves, which will develop yellow-green colour between the veins, which later turn completely yellow. Growth is stunted then stops, and yellow leaves develop dead patches and fall off. Deficiency in the soil is often a result of not enough gases in the soil and too much water that sits around the roots, and/or high concentration of colloidal particles, or compacted soil. Iron deficiency can also be caused by too much manganese, as well as poor root growth. Phosphorous deficiency could cause the root growth problem, in turn causing the iron deficiency.

To correct a deficiency
  • cultivating the soil to aerate it
  • digging in organic matter like compost or renewable peat moss to provide soil structure to enhance air spaces, moisture absorption and retention capability

Note: to allay any oncerns around using peat moss, check out this link

Too much iron in the soil can cause manganese deficiency. Toxicity is often connected to low pH or a zinc deficiency or high levels of molybdenum.

To offset an excess of iron
  • increasing potassium which will increase zinc content
  • raise pH by applying dolomitic limestone, which will also add magnesium and calcium

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

Lessons Learned – 2015

Reflections 2015

Yesterday it was 30 plus degrees Celsius, now it isn’t even 20, and the day is dull and gray. Rain is gently pattering around me, and my fingers are a little numb from cold (lol)…but I am safe for now under my patio umbrella. Stubbornly indulging in a margarita, I’m pretending it is still summer. It’s so hard to let go of the warmth and life of it. The enforced inactivity turns my thoughts to my garden season, my triumphs and my lessons learned.

Reflections on lessons learned

When I look back on the past year, from a gardening perspective, I have done a whole lot. There were a bunch of lessons learned, too, and I’ve come up with an answer to many challenges I faced this year. Next year will be even better!

Hoop House

The hoop house has continuing problems with the pvc pipes popping out of the holes they should sit in, along the centre beam. The beam is an improvement over the previous pvc pipe joiners, which constantly cracked and broke with the movement. But it didn’t solve the problem of holding the pipes in place, just bolstered the overall strength of the structure.

 

Lessons Learned

Hoop Houses move a lot in the wind. If you fix it to a solid centre beam, you have to fix the pvc pipe securely or it pops out of where you want it.

Action

  • I used Gorilla Glue™ to try and hold the PVC pipes in place in the holes in the wooden beam

I will grow peppers in hanging pots in the hoop house – these did tremendously for me this year, while the ones I grew in the hoop house beds were all chewed upon by a small, unidentified critter. Aside: Why do they do that, chew just some, out of each pepper?? Eat one whole one, leave others for others I say! Silly rabbits. I thought pepper dust, spray, etc is a critter deterrent? Not here! But next year only mice will have access and they will have to be acrobats.

Lessons Learned

Hoop Houses offer excellent housing to snakes, mice, spiders, grasshoppers, butterflies and moths, even rabbits. You can’t pile up anything without something deciding it looks like home. And remedies, like hot peppers, that work in one location, may not work in another.

Action

  • I am running a length of chicken wire around the bottom edge of the hoop house, to keep out critters bigger than mice. Since the snakes favour my hoop house, I assume they will keep mice in check.
  • I cleaned out all the mess and odds and ends of fabric row covers, unusable wildly bent PVC pipe sections, tools, old pots, greenhouse cover clips…you name it, somewhere in a jungle of weeds and exuberant growth lurked one of almost everything garden related. I bumped into a spider with a body the size of a ping pong ball. And a garter snake about two feet long. Shudder!
  • grow peppers in hanging pots inside the hoop house

 

The hoop house was not magically weed free in 2015. The ones that did grow seemed to become monstrous overnight, basking in the excellent conditions they found themselves in. I can’t face any more weeding!!! Trying to garden organically has left me exhausted from battling weeds!

Lessons Learned

Weeds require a strong, consistent strategy or they take over everything. Weeds love a hoop house and are even harder to control organically inside it than they are outside the hoop house environment.

Action

  • I’ve laid down tarp sections throughout the inside of the hoop house, and covered them in bark chips. Some raised beds direct in the ground remain, these are not covered in tarps and bark chips.
  • I will grow inside the hoophouse, in recycled feed bags on a bark chips floor.

Feed bag garden lessons learned in actionFeed bag garden - lessons learned in action
Each plant can receive individual nutrients and care, and can be removed if it succumbs to insect pests or other factors that could be a threat to the rest of my crop.

Harvest

My okra in feed bags on my back deck are flowering and spawning many baby okra…will they survive they next week of low nightime temps? I don’t feel confident, so I harvested what they produced so far, and made a huge pot of vegetarian gumbo and threw in some carrots I grew as well.

Yesterday, when summer was still here, I waited until the late afternoon, when oils are the highest, and harvested lettuce leaf basil, and Persian basil. I made herbal vinegar using them, for Christmas gifts to family and friends. That plan led to me acquiring some nifty little teflon funnels, to pour the vinegar from the mason jars I made it in, into the decorative bottles for gifts. He he he.

The cucumber test trials were plagued with disaster, including rampaging dogs (my own!), overnight visits from raccoons, and cold nights. The labels all faded in the summer sun, and I don’t recall which ones were necessarily wine or not. I guess I will repeat the trial next year….you can read about this year’s cucumber soaking sweetness trial here.

New Ideas

I went to a workshop on zero waste gardening last year. We made starting and even growing containers from both new and used plastic recyclable, food safe containers.
Zero waste garden

  • Save my plastic drink bottles and make reusable plant starter containers for plants I will transplant elsewhere
  • make big buckets like the one picture here for all season and even indoor growing

 

Someone whose garden I drool over nightly on my commute from my day job had some great ideas that I plan to implement next year. They planted peas and beans on two rows and then in between, made tall but narrow hoops out of pvc pipe – they span the two rows only. The vines grew up and over this hoop, making a tunnel of clean, freely hanging fruits to be harvested easily. Great idea, and I’m happy to use it!

  • make a tall tunnel of pvc pipes bent into hoops bug enough to walk under, cover them with chicken wire to make a tunnel
  • plant runner beans and cucumbers there
  • grow lettuce underneath 

I will make a canning and preserving  plan and try to grow as much or more of what I need for executing said plan. As I am also learning to cook as I go, I learn more each year what I think I would like to can or cook or bake, and I can refine my garden plans from there.

  • Plan garden back from a preserving and harvest plan for my own eating and cooking plans
  • write a blog post about it

I hope to grow pea shoots and greens and herbs indoors this winter, something I never have any luck at but never stop trying to achieve! I have hundreds of thousands of pea seeds that I will not use up before they are too unreliable at germinating to bother with, planting in a normal fashion. I suppose there is a lesson for the lessons learned there too: dont buy more seeds than you will germinate in a year or two. I love stir fries, and love pea shoots in salad so why not try my hand at serious green raising, indoors, this winter.

My approach is to try things on a very small scale, perfect the method, and then scale up. I’ll bring you along with me on this latest adventure, growing and eating gourmet greens indoors.

  • Sprout and eat pea shoots over the winter season, indoors
  • write a blog post about it

 

Is that Canada Geese overhead? Sigh. A winter rest sounds good….but my soul yearns for the garden ….and winter from here, seems an eternity. Still…..only a few months until a new publication of seed porn, ahem seed catalogues. I can savour my apple jelly, hot pepper jelly,  fennel saffron sweet pepper pickles and dream of next year’s bounty while I sit by the fire and warm these bones, dogs at my feet and the garden in my heart. And my lessons learned are documented, safe and ready to implement.

So, how did your garden grow this summer? Tell me in the comments section, I would love to hear about your own adventures, struggles and surprising victories in 2015!

Sulfur

Soil testing is an important activity for a successful garden. Soil stewardship is an ongoing process, where you test and amend, grow some stuff, then test, amend and grow some stuff….and so on. Focus on building soil tilth so it can really hold and make available to the plants all the important nutrients. You do this in part by adding compost, manure, rock dust, bone meal, kelp & fish emulsions. Read this article series to learn more about each of the 13 key nutrients for your garden.

 

Sulfur falls onto Ontario, Canada farms in the form of acid (sulfur dioxide) rain, depositing 8-13kg per hectare each year, so soil deficiency is not common here. Sulfur can be used as a soil amendment to correct high pH of above 7.0, and can help reduce higher levels of lime and sodium. Lime gets converted into gypsum which has the benefit of providing calcium. Sodium is freed so that leaching can remove it from the soil. Sulfur helps improve soil quality by building tilth, and also by reducing the tendency to crust by removing sodium. Sulfur also makes other nutrients like phosphorous more available.

Deficiencies in Sulfur will show as yellowing leaves, beginning with the younger leaves.

To correct a deficiency of Sulfur
  • organic matter releases sulfur as it decomposes, and minerals in the soil can also slowly release it so add compost, worm casings and greensand and rock dust to prevent or treat a deficiency
  • elemental Sulfur can be applied to provide a fast acting source

If too much sulfur is present it will negatively impact the plant’s ability to take in molybdenum. That can result in leaves that show curled mottled edges.

To offset excessive Sulfur
  • Corn, alfalfa, wheat, legumes and oil seeds remove large amounts of sulfur.
  • Add sand to the soil to increase leaching and help reduce accumulation of sulfur