Posts Tagged 'soil'

…aaaand, we’re BACK!

After a dormancy approaching 2 years (really? really!! time flies!), I realized it’s time to crank up this blog again – just in time for the new season.  We didn’t REALLY fall off the face of the earth. We’ve continued to send out emails, and have been active on Facebook, with some Tweeting thrown in from time to time, but I know that a number of our fans don’t “do” Facebook, not everyone is on our email list, and many don’t appreciate being bombarded with constant emails. So, I’m brushing off the rust, oiling the gears…ready to blog it!

Lots of things have happened in the intervening months. It’s the cycle of  life on a farm – preparing, planting crops, weeding, harvesting, selling, delivering, removing, recharging, then starting all over again. And in between each one, there’s weeding, dealing with unexpected stuff – sometimes good, sometimes not – more weeding, and in the summer, mowing and mowing and mowing – oh, and weeding! Then somewhere in the mix, throw in a crop of baby chicks to replenish the flock, after decimation by coyote and feral dogs… yep, life on the farm is NEVER boring.

Bee Heaven Farm collage

Last year on the farm

We saw new markets start, and others die out. The Homestead Market at Losner Park and the Overtown Market on 10th Street did not return in 2011-2012, and were sorely missed. But the slightly less hectic pace let us concentrate on the Pinecrest Gardens Green Market, where we had a great season. We’ll be back in Pinecrest in December.

Last year we started using Farmigo’s  CSA software system. We’ve fully automated our CSA enrollment process and are now able to offer more flexibility with share options and payment plans. In the summertime, when the CSA isn’t running and we don’t sell at the farmers market, we’ve always had a prepaid system (open to anyone) to order seasonal summer items – mainly tropical fruit. We implemented Farmigo’s webstore functions for this, and expanded our summer pickup locations to include the Upper Eastside Market, where our more northerly customers could pick up their orders without having to schlep down to Joanna’s Marketplace in the Dadeland area or to the farm in Redland. That’s worked out really well!

Our CSA options expanded last year, with the discovery of locally-grown Sem-Chi certified organic rice right in the Clewiston area barely 100 miles from the farm, and the debut of local salt farmers Midge & Tom with their Florida Keys Sea Salt. As more local organic (or pesticide-free) producers come online, we continue to develop additional stability and more variety in the shares.  We’re always looking for new crops, too. We have an amazing opportunity in South Florida to explore tropical food crops not available in the rest of mainland USA, and we’re all about that! Of course, Mother Nature always has the last word.

…see you around!

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no-till

After spending a season working on a no-till farm this summer I have absorbed the numerous benefits of this system. For those of you who have never heard of no-till, it is basically what it sounds like, it is farming without tilling the ground. This method is very uncommon for many reasons. As a race we have been tilling the ground for thousands of years, in fact the word agriculture means “tillage of a field” when translated literally from Latin. Conversely the no till method of farming is relatively new and because of a lack of education and communication it has not been tried on many farms. Needless to say it hasn’t been tried in a big variety of climates and soil types either. Another issue is that it doesn’t lend itself to large scale production, in other words, this technique is only manageable on a small scale. On the other hand the benefits of no-till are so great that it’s definitely worth exploring and there is no question that it’s a big step towards a sustainable agriculture.

You might have heard about the idea that more small and medium sized farms are better for our food safety and for the environment than huge farms. Considering that no-till works in small scale farming it’s feasible that if eventually there are more small farms it could be adopted as a common and normal practice. From what I understand, every farmer and gardener who practices no-till does it differently. The system that I learned has been very effective for the farmers at Four Winds Farm in upstate New York for about 15 years. One of the reasons they got into it is because they didn’t have a tractor when they started their farm, which is an issue most new farmers face, considering tractors are such an expensive piece of equipment. After a couple of years, once they began to see the benefits of no-till, even though they were able to purchase a tractor they stuck with it.

Arguably the most important benefit is the preservation and improvement of soil structure and soil life. Better soil structure helps both retain water and drain excess water, it also prevents erosion, run-off and compaction. A soil that is alive with worms, bugs, fungi and bacteria is constantly breaking down organic matter and making nutrients available to plants. Another benefit is weed control. This idea is the hardest for people to understand because essentially, tilling is weeding. The problem with tilling is that it brings to the surface thousands of weed seeds that were buried and exposes them to oxygen which triggers germination. When you don’t till all you have to deal with is the seeds that landed on the surface and the weeds that spread through underground root systems.

The weed issue might be the key factor in considering the no-till method for South Florida. In the North East there are long freezing winters which kill off weeds and give farmers a fresh start in the spring. It isn’t totally perfect though; once the summer kicks in there are plenty of weeds to fight off, many of which have deep tap roots that are a nightmare to dig up. Here in South Florida during our off season the weeds take over instead of die back. That alone changes the way we should approach no-till. Weeding an entire organic farm by hand, which is the way they do it up north, is inconceivable for us. cornplotbefore

At Bee Heaven we have a few small fields tucked away in between the groves and one field we keep in permaculture that are never tilled. Coming back to work here this season, after my no-till experience, has given me the inspiration to treat this ground like we worked the fields at Four Winds Farm. I’m curious about how it will be different and how we can manage crops efficiently considering those differences. cornplotcleared

The pictures to the right are documenting the process of starting with a totally overgrown plot that had field corn in it last season and preparing it for a new crop. After weeding the “jungle” by hand, we raked the loose weeds and big chunks of wood, rocks and roots out of the way. Then we scuffle hoed the ground thoroughly and finally added a thick layer of compost to the planting beds. Because our compost is mostly plant material with some finishedcornplothorse manure, it isn’t very rich in nutrients so we have to add a small amount of pelletized chicken manure fertilizer over the compost. All of this work is much easier said than done! The 3 of us spent about 4 hours working really hard and sweating profusely to get 3 40′ beds done, all by hand.

We’ll see how the season pans out and what the weed pressure is like in this field compared to the tilled fields. The improvement of soil structure will come with time so we wont get the instant gratification of fluffy loose soil like you get with tilled ground. This field will be harder at first, but theoretically over the years if it continues to be treated like this it will gain organic matter, it will have better structure, less weeds and most importantly produce better food.

A new season begins

Returning Farm Intern Muriel arrived two weeks ago (already?!) , along with increased responsibilities and a great attitude! She immediately got to work cleaning up the summer’s accumulation of spiderwebs, dust and debris in the barn, taking inventory of planting supplies, starting germination tests for our heirloom tomato seeds, posting CSA enrollments,  and a host of other startup chores.

In the meantime, I, Farmer Margie, was waiting to till under the cover crop… and waiting…and waiting…and waiting… Why? It was raining every single day, and not just a little. The soil has been soggy for weeks. You can’t work the soil when it’s so wet – you’ll destroy its tilth, and that’s something you want to avoid – even if it set you back a few weeks.

So what the heck is ’tilth’ anyway? Read more


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