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“Let food be your medicine”
Our 16 year old just discovered a fascinating truth: what you eat affects your body. Yep. Achy joints? Fuzzy head? Difficulty getting up in the morning? Lots of acne? The underlying cause and fix are often in your food and how your body interacts with it. Our chiropractor recommends eating up to 300 different foods daily to get the minerals and vitamins and other nutrients you need to maximally function. You can come a lot closer if you figure in all the spices and ingredients in things; however, the 20 ingredients in Fruit Loops don’t go far because they are “nutrient fluffy.” The goal is to eat “nutrient dense” foods, meaning that the carrots and lettuce and chicken on our dinner plates are as full of the tasty building blocks of life as we can get them.
How does one get nutrient dense food? One needs nutrient dense soil. This happens when you build your soil with complex fertilizers like compost and organic matter. However, there are things to know about assessing and targeting your soil’s needs. In this video, Dan Kitteredge will talk about why nutrient density is important and the first step in building your soil.
By the way, it’s February now and he recommends testing in the fall. Not to worry. That’s an optimal time, but there’s no time like the present (well, maybe the present in a couple of months) to start. Do your soil test when you can. Dan will look at sample tests in the workshop coming up and teach you how to look at your test and feed your specific soil. Sign up today: Bionutrient Food Association workshop & registration!
Here’s an introduction to Dan Kitteredge and some of the work he’s doing on his own farm (yes, he actually farms):
Check out the course in February on the Calendar page.
“How can I become a farmer?” someone recently asked us. Well, if you have dirt and can put a lettuce or tomato or carrot seed in it, you can become a farmer. It’s that easy.
However, growing food is also a science and art that can be learned and honed. That’s what this course is about: learning the science and art of growing food that truly nourishes body, soul, and soil. Here’s what the Bionutrient Food Association says about the course:
They do have scholarships, so don’t let the money deter you. We have hostel type housing on-site, so don’t let that deter you. This is a great course for beginners and seasoned growers alike as Dan Kitteredge is a wealth of information and a down to earth communicator. If you can’t attend our class, look for one near you. It’s an opportunity that’s not to be missed!
Last night we attended a seed saving class taught by Craig Schaaf. In all the seed information, Craig slipped in some great soil information. As a seed saver, the mineralization of his soil is very important. A well mineralized plant is one that is grown in soil with plenty of trace minerals–not just the potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus that concerns most gardeners or farmers. A well mineralized plant is healthier, more disease and pest resistant, and produces a stronger seed. It’s fruit or produce tastes better and will keep longer. He recommends testing your soil through a lab like Biosystems: Soil testing and consultation services, who can do a trace mineral analysis for you. Trace minerals are the minute but essential nutrients a soil needs to have healthy flora (good bacterias and funguses) and fauna (worms, nematodes, etc.) that in turn help plants to grow strong, resilient, and productive.Kelp is Craig’s recommended all-purpose amendment. It contains about 60 trace minerals, all of which are readily available to the soil life and your plants.
One mineral tip Craig shared concerned heavy, clumpy clay soils. Michigan has clay areas interspersed with sandy stretches, so this is an issue here. When we were in Montana we encountered “gumbo.” That’s the heavy, clumpy soil that defines such soil. It is the stuff that gives you platform shoes on a rainy day. What this soil type is strong in is magnesium. That is a binding mineral. Calcium is the antidote mineral. They have the same polarity (and therefore attractiveness), but calcium is stronger and therefore limits the binding action of the magnesium. This is an example of how knowing the mineralization of your soil can make a huge difference in your garden.
Thought for the day: “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” Elbert Hubbard
Remember, Anyone Can Farm!
The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
Bill Mollison (from the permaculture.net website)
I’m learning what permaculture is. This is a course that will be taught by someone else (Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf), so I have a functional knowledge, but not the technical knowledge needed to teach it. In many ways, it seems to me that permaculture is what our great grandparents did, whether they lived on a city lot or an 80 acre farm. They studied their situation, which included the land, the climate, their social situation (this was important in the water sharing west as well as the urban areas), and their total resources. They figured out the best way to get the most production, both food and financially, that their situation would allow. They sought to work with the land as much as possible because they didn’t possess the petroleum means (tractors, fuel, fertilizer) to force their will. This is, to my understanding, the essence of permaculture. It’s the construction of a productive system that uses the components to benefit and sustain each other.
On our farm, we graze animals to build the soil to grow healthier plants to have food to graze the animals on. For our efforts we get meat, milk, and eggs. Plus, the animals provide the raw material for compost to enhance the soil of our garden so we have good vegetables. Any organic “waste” from the butcher shop or milk processing (such as whey when I make the family’s cheese) goes back into the system one way or another. This is one example of permaculture.
Since soil is the key to growing anything, it is a critical component in building your permaculture system. Craig Schaaf is an experienced farmer and respected teacher of this kind of agriculture. Craig has modeled his farm on Eliot Coleman’s work, focusing on soil building to achieve amazing harvests from small spaces. Craig will be teaching us how to use what’s naturally available to us to build a well mineralized soil that can support intensive planting.
This is a class that I anticipate will be of great use to beginners who just want to know where to start. I recommend it as the starter class if you’ve never grown a thing in your life. Permaculture ideas provide an umbrella for you to understand sustainable, organic type farming. Soils are the foundation of all growing.
I also anticipate that this class will be full of information for those of us who have been growing all sorts of things for most of our lives. There is a lot to know about permaculture and soils and building a sustainable system. Your farm or garden will benefit from your time with Penny and Craig. We will be inside learning the basics, but also out in the field applying what’s in the books. In this class you can learn:
- Principles of permaculture – your guides as you observe and plan.
- Ethics of permaculture – how to apply the principles to your land and your life.
- Soils – applying permaculture to the foundation of all that you will grow.
- Design – Planning your food growing enterprise with permaculture principles and ethics in mind.
Hope to see you here! Introduction to Permaculture and Soils
Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon in Cadillac, sitting by the lake, chatting with passersby. It was the kick-off for Transition Cadillac’s “200 Yarden Dash.”
I saw a couple clever ideas I thought I’d share. Vickie Purkiss was demonstrating this modified raised bed. It’s made from hay, although she said straw was recommended. She added the dirt and compost mixture a couple of inches deep. Then she planted the cabbages into the dirt. The plants were wilty because they were in a cold breeze and weren’t used to the outdoors, but she said she’d had good success with this method before.
These are very basic outdoor plant beds. One lady I talked to lives in an apartment, but wants to grow more of her family’s food. They have a small yard and are going to have a few rabbits and use one or two of these beds for vegetables. They won’t have to dig up the yard for their garden, and the beds are easily mobile when they move.
The class that seemed most appropriate for many people just starting out was the Soils and Permaculture Class. Soil is so basic to any food enterprise, whether it’s vegetables or animals. It’s important to learn about managing it well no matter what you want to do. Permaculture is a fancy word for getting an overview of your property/area and figuring out how to manage it as naturally as possible. This class is a good overview and basic skills primer for all the other classes. Plus, you can see how we use it with both plants and animals and can figure out how, say, 5 layer hens in your backyard can be used to benefit your lettuce and beans or begonias. It’s a great beginner class, but I’m looking forward to it as well. You can follow the link to learn more about it, and sign up with “buy now” button.
Hope these ideas help spark some thoughts on how you might “farm!”
A well tended soil can boast a million species of bacteria in one gram–and that doesn’t count the fungi, molds, worms, and other creepy crawlies. This is a “living” soil. All these small inhabitants perform myriads of functions that maintain or grow the soil itself, feed plants, and exchange, sequester, or release nutrients and atmospheric gasses. These functions are all crucial to us.
Unfortunately, the folks who have developed our agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides since the 1950′s looked primarily at the plants growing on the surface. They got very good at feeding plants, killing weeds, and annihilating creepy crawlies. They neglected the life under the crust, to the great detriment of the soil. Farmers and gardners are facing the need to use more and more fertilizer and pesticides to get the same results because the soil is dead or dying and unable to truly nourish the plants, leaving them weak and vulnerable. Some weeds are even beginning to show resistance to Round-up.
All is not lost, though. You can grow soil for your plants, whether it’s lawn, flowers, or vegetables. There are two things to look at in a shovelful of dirt: minerals (the building blocks of life) and living creatures (the vehicles and factories for moving, storing, manufacturing, and making the minerals bioavailable to plants).
You can have your soil tested for mineral content by special labs, but keep in mind that different plants like different things. If you want high production from your garden plants (as a market gardener would), this is worth the investment. For a home gardener it can be simpler. The answer is compost. Compost is decomposed organic material. It is full of the vitamins and minerals from the material it was made from. You can add certain amendments, which we’ll cover another time (and for sure in the Soils and Biochar classes), but compost all by itself can be complete enough for most gardening. Compost is becoming easier to find all the time, but it’s also easy to make. We’ll cover that in class, too.
How to encourage “life?” Compost actually comes with the biology that made it. It is usually already alive with the decomposers of the soil. In addition you can add worms, leaf mold (a great source of nutrients and fungis and molds), and a 5 gallon bucket (or lots more) of dirt dug from a woods.
Biochar provides the perfect environment for encouraging a living soil. Charcoal in various degrees has been used by native cultures and third world farmers for centuries. It was discovered in the Amazon and provided the native tribes a way to grow food for a huge population on what is otherwise very poor soil. Biochar is the carbon carcass or organic material. Usually it is from wood, but can be made from bones, plants, or anything dense and organic. It is produced at high temperatures (much hotter than your woodstove or grill) so that the impurities and toxic gasses are consumed and what is left is very pure. The flora and fauna of your soil love to take up residence in the millions of apartments comprising the biochar. Nutrients can be stored and slow released as plants need them. The char will also act as a sponge for water so that the effects of drought are mitigated. This is most obvious in poorly nourished, arid soils. In good soils, you should find you need to add less compost or other amendments over time.
Here is a photo of our field trials with biochar. This was sweet corn planted in the field. It didn’t get water other than rain and dew. The yields were better from the corn on the right – bigger ears, better filled out. The biochar corn stayed green longer into the fall, making the earless stalks better fodder when we grazed them off. The beds were treated the same other than the biochar. This wasn’t an exactly scientific study, but it provides good anecdotal evidence for the effects biochar can have.
Soil is a living thing, not just dirt. You can have soil that will grow nutritious vegetables with the addition of compost. Plus, by adding biochar you can supercharge your soil. We can show you how!
References: National Geographic: A Cubic Foot
You can also read more about biochar on Baker’s Biochar.
Here are some facts and thoughts on soil from the National Association of Conservation Districts:
Is soil an important ingredient in your every day life?
The answer is yes, and here are a few reasons why:
- Last night you slept in a building built on soil.
- You drink waterthat flows through soil and is cleaned by the soil.
- You breathe air that comes partly from plants growing in the soil.
- You even wear clothes made from plantsthat grow in the soil.
Soils make our lives possible. We build on them, play on them, drive on them, eat food grown in or raised on them, take medicines from them, wear clothes we wouldn’t have without soils, drink water that wouldn’t be clean without soils, breathe air we wouldn’t have without the plants and trees growing in soils. The entire earth—every ecosystem, every living organism—is dependent upon soils.
A Few Facts about Soil
- Soil makes up the outermost layer of our planet.
- Topsoil is the most productive soil layer.
- Soil has varying amounts of organic matter (living and dead organisms), minerals and nutrients.
- Five tons of topsoil spread over an acre is only as thick as a dime.
- Natural processes can take more than 500 years to form one inch of topsoil.
- Soil scientists have identified over 70,000 kinds of soil in the United States.
- Soil is formed from rocks and decaying plants and animals.
- An average soil sample is 45 percent minerals, 25 percent water, 25 percent air and five percent organic matter.
- Different-sized mineral particles, such as sand, silt, and clay, give soil its texture.
- Fungi and bacteria help break down organic matter in the soil.
- Plant roots and lichens break up rocks which become part of new soil.
- Roots loosen the soil, allowing oxygen to penetrate. This benefits animals living in the soil.
- Roots hold soil together and help prevent erosion.
Information provided by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service and listed on the Environmental Protection Agency website at http://epa.gov/gmpo/edresources/soil.html.
I’m working on the Permaculture and Soils course today. Here are some thoughts from Penny Kriebel, who will be working with Mark to instruct the course:
“O’k Permaculture Design, Penny Krebiehl:
Taking a permaculture course can be very inspiring, and for me and many others awakens a whole load of creativity, positivity and eagerness to be a part of the solutions for our world. I took my first permaculture course in 2005, with several more to follow. Why did I repeat a permaculture course? I wasn’t “held back” nor did I fail the course, I decided to continue my study and apprenticeship and because of the value of learning from many different teachers. Each with a shared permaculture language, yet, like the Baker family with their experience in farming and animal husbandry, shared their own passionate understanding and skill set.
In 2009 I traveled out to NY state and completed an intensive and incredibly valuable Permaculture Teacher Training with,Dave Jacke, author of Edible Forest Gardens. Since that time, I’ve also worked alongside of permaculture teachers, Peter Bane, author of Garden Farming for Town and Country, and Keith D. Johnson, who are also editor and co-editor of the Permaculture Activist Magazine. I feel honored to continue my study and practice of permaculture with a plethora of experienced teachers and students and have only named a very few here, but definitely recognize and credit them with being amazing, inspiring mentors, and while feeling very, very grateful.
Through the years of adopting my own permaculture life-style practice and then starting to teach, I realized that permaculture was more than just gardening and it could be used to really transform our lives and transform our relationships and turn us all into happier, healthier people. I’ve always planned my “career” and paid work around the needs of my family, and included my own children in the design of my working hours. Since 1997, I’ve worked at and tweaked a creative curriculum which has ultimately taught permaculture to children as young as age five, through college age. I’m pleased to say that in teaching my most recent permaculture design course in North West Michigan in 2012, I was able to work alongside of a remarkable group of adults, upwards to 69 years old.
Much information about permaculture is available electronically, in books and published on the web. But honestly, the most valuable learning experiences have happened when I’ve been immersed in a learning and sharing community that an on-site permaculture course offers. The people part of learning permaculture in a class or workshop setting is a way to consciously mimic what happens in the natural world, and has proven over and over again to be an amazing adventure in knowledge-based skill sharing.
In permaculture design we try to turn around the limiting factors of a system, so if we’ve got something that’s limiting us it becomes one of the aspects we pay attention to in our design. This is where we ask – how can we use the permaculture principles and design in all areas of our lives?
I’m pleased to be invited as a part of the Anyone Can Farm teaching staff and share whatever I can of my passion and learning of Permaculture Design.
Check out the class, which runs May 24-26. Hope to see you here!
I came across an article today (Plant a Healthy Diet in your garden) that I thought I’d post here. It identifies a lot of the nutritional value of various plants you can grow. If you are tight for space, it may be worth looking at to plan the best nutrition for your buck.
I’m also looking at my seed catalogs right now. I am a bit behind with my order, but I’ve been busy and planting isn’t for another 4-8 weeks, depending on how my help goes and how the weather behaves. Someone asked recently where we order seeds from, so I thought I’d share some of my favorites:
Fedco–GMO free seeds, lots of organics. The catalog itself is worth getting as they include lots of information. They source from smaller producers, so I feel like I’m supporting an organization that supports farms like ours. Also sells implements and tools, books, season extension stuff, supplements/fertilizers, field crop seed.
Johnny’s–Very much like Fedco but with glossy pictures. I compare listings sometimes and glean more information.
Seed Savers Exchange
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds–I don’t order from this one, but I’ve heard lots of good things about them. They specialize in heirloom varieties, so it’s a good place to find just those unique seeds.
I like to order seeds if possible because of the varieties I can get. For example, I didn’t like radishes. They had too much bite for me. I thought every radish was small, red, and called “Cherry Belle.” Then I got my first Fedco catalog and discovered that there were about 10 varieties of radish in all shapes and sizes. I really like French Breakfast radishes. Last year I grew Spanish Black Radishes. We love Daikon radishes for fresh eating and for making kimchi (a fermented way of preserving radishes and cabbage). These are way more varieties of nearly every vegetable than the couple on the rack at the store.
More in a garden grows than what the gardener sows.~Spanish proverb
Our children like to help us in the garden. Really. When they are about 2-4 years old. That’s the age when they plant corn seeds in the green bean bed, hoe up the fledgling lettuce, and weed out the carrots by the handful. They aren’t exactly helpful, but as they tend my garden I am planting seeds that I plan to cultivate over the seasons. These little starts will bear fruit eventually.
I know this because I see it when I look at their healthy little bodies. I know it when they proudly serve their Dad the carrots or zucchini they helped pick for supper. I know it when they distinguish between cucumbers and pickles. I know it when the older children team up to make sure the green beans get picked and ready to can so we can eat them in the winter.
We’ve found that some of our most enthusiastic visiting helpers are kids. They are curious about life. They are able to really do things and understand that what they are handling–plant or animal–is life, is food, is a part of things. Kids love life. They like to help with the baby animals. They enjoy learning where the food on their plate comes from. They even often like the processing, seeing how an animal is put together, how it works, why it does what it does.
Some of the lessons in Nature’s garden aren’t so enjoyable. Perseverance when you face of a row of weeds. Gentleness when you’re in a hurry to move the chicks. Patience when the calf won’t suck off the bottle right and butts you in the stomach and slobbers all over your back. Courage when the chickens you tended twice a day for two months have to be slaughtered. Compassion when the family dog is old and sick and suffering and needs to be let go. Self-control when the pigs get out for the third time and won’t go back in. These are the hard lessons.
Our children are our future and the investments we make in them by connecting them to their food is beyond measure. Even if it’s just a planter or two, or only for a season, the experience of growing and eating real food plants seeds beyond lettuce and tomatoes. We feel strongly about this and invite kids who are capable to attend Anyone Can Farm classes. We want to grow farmers!
Contact us if you are interested in bringing your children along with you. Help make this available to the next generation by sponsoring someone on this website or through our Indiegogo Challenge. Thank-you in advance for investing in the next generation of food producers!
I was walking the other day: the sun was shining but the wind was blowing cold. I could feel everything starting to move like a sleeping person about to wake up. What was sleeping is ready to spring up and get going! But now, on the 21st of March, it’s still under snow. So it waits, building energy, getting more restless, until we get some warmer weather and it can explode. Spring is coming, no matter what it looks like outside yet!
That makes me think of dirt, garden seeds, compost, cleaning animal areas (to start composting), and seeing familiar faces come up the driveway again to buy chicks or deliver chickens for processing or purchase some rich, biochar laced compost. I’m ready to see the farm bustling. In the last year we’ve met so many more people who are raising their own food for the first time. Folks looking for compost for a garden. Young moms and dads bringing 10 chickens for processing because they wanted to try their hand at healthy meat for their under-5 aged children. It’s exciting. They have “spring energy” about them. They are ready and willing to get up and do something, and often all they need to really run with it is a little help.
If help is what you need: ideas, where to start, how to build something, we are here! In May we have two pastured poultry classes, a biochar class (you get to make a retort), and a soils and permaculture course (you can grow vegetables anywhere). The Courses tab contains descriptions of the classes. The Calendar tab tells you when the class will be and has a button to help you sign up for the class you want. There are “free” classes available as perks on our Indiegogo challenge. Check it out, donate, share it so your friends can come with you, and let us know which class you want.
Spring is coming. Let’s go!