(This is a cross-post with the Transition Wayland blog)

It’s been over a month and our carbon/biochar and Korean Natural Farming inputs trial at the Transition Wayland plot in the Community Gardens has been running smoothly. Yesterday we harvested for the first time and the differences between the four beds are already noticeable!

Check out the five lettuces we transplanted in May.

Bed 1 (loose soil – biochar – no Korean Natural Farming inputs):

Bed 2 (loose soil – biochar – Korean Natural Farming inputs):

Bed 3 (tight soil – biochar – no Korean Natural Farming inputs):

Bed 4 (tight soil – biochar – Korean Natural Farming inputs):

 

 

 

 

 

I harvested the largest of each bed’s lettuce as well as some chard leaves (blue – KNF inputs):

HARVESTS in oz.
Bed 1 Bed 2 Bed 3 Bed 4
Largest lettuce 5 7.3 0.5 5.3
chard leaves 5.7 4.5 0 0.9

The nice, loose soil in the long bed that makes up beds 1 and 2 is obviously much better than the tight soil in beds 3 and 4. The KNF has been of benefit in both, a smaller benefit in the loose soil beds (2.3 ounces heavier), and a much larger benefit in the tight soil beds (the KNF lettuce there was a whopping 10.6 times heavier than in the no KNF bed). So the KNF overcame whatever the deficiencies are in that soil.

This larger benefit is less pronounced, but still visible for all the other plants (chard, beets, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, broccoli, onions and parsley). Those in Beds 3 and 4 (tight soil) are obviously smaller than in Beds 1 and 2 (loose soil). There is less of a noticeable difference between Beds 1 and 2, but again more of a difference between 3 and 4. So again the KNF shines in overcoming a tight soil.

Of course, these are only our first data points! We’ll keep measuring and recording – and eating – all season long.

Can you see we’re having fun?

My LAB making rendered a lot of whey, and even more curds. I was planning on turning that into cottage cheese, but after straining and pressing it remained too crumbly. So this morning, for Father’s Day, I got experimental and after a couple of trials put some yummy curds/egg/gluten-free flour/salt and sugar “pancakes” on the table. With homemade blueberry jam they reminded everyone of blintzes, only better. Crunchy and melted, salty and sweet, with a hint of sour, it was a hit!

I checked on the nucs we took off the big Sam hive and one after the other they turned out queen right with laying queens. 100%! One hive became seven, just like that. The chickens are robust and healthy and laying too many eggs to keep up with, and the six chicks are thriving too (and starting to croak instead of cheep!). The garden is perking up now that the weather has shifted to warm. The ferments on my counter top are abounding.

Big jar of LAB, and the five ingredients for OHN, fermenting in their brown sugar.

You can imagine the smell of the cinnamon bark just by looking at it’s color.

These milk curds are so rich! They’ll be paneer tomorrow.

Today I was finally happy with the seedlings planted in the garden. The lettuces, for instance, have been in the ground for three weeks and in those weeks hardly put on any weight.  The peas are pathetic. The cold and rain would be fine for those, but for being followed instantly by heat wave weather. The up-and-own has been holding back everything, except for the weeds. (And the mushrooms have all turned to sludge.) But on my morning tour of the garden today, everything looks perked up. Must be yesterday’s perfect 70F, perfect mix of sunshine and clouds, a not-too-cool night and this dewy, overcast morning. And yesterday’s dose of this KNF!

Hail the ugly Homer Bucket! In went harvested rainwater, OHN (Oriental Herbal Nutrient), FAA (Fish Amino Acids) and FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice), the inputs for stimulating basic vegetative growth during the plant’s consumptive stage and egging new organs towards maturity. At 500:1 dilution (FAA) and 1000:1 dilution (OHN and FPJ), these went into each 5 gallon bucket at respectively 2 tbsp + 1 tsp  and 2 tsp. A little goes a long way.

I also added a tablespoon of micronized Azomite, a splash of liquid kelp and of EM1. Six buckets of this went out onto the veg garden as a foliar and soil soak. I still have three “unsettled” garden beds waiting for the squashes, zukes and cukes to harden off. Once those are in, and once the plants are bigger and need more, I’ll need to figure out the irrigation. I enjoy the watering and face time with each seedling in this perfect weather, but when it gets to 90F, I’d rather open a valve. More on irrigation soon!

My KNF/biochar trial partner and I also planted tomatoes and peppers into our Community Garden beds. I tucked in some lettuce, chard, celery, and scallions. We ran out of time to apply KNF (same as above) to half those beds, but I’ll run over there and do it today.  The sun exposure int that plot is out of this world, as are the massive amounts of worms. And weeds and pests… can’t have it all perfect. Those seedlings were the same batch as the ones I planted here. I’m curious about the difference between the trial beds and the difference between the Community Garden plot and my own garden, where I apply biochar/KNF throughout.

 

Cross-post from the Transition Wayland website

Today we started the carbon/biochar and Korean Natural Farming inputs trial at our plot in the Community Gardens. Andrea and Kaat divided two beds in half. All halves received biochar (“pre-loaded” with compost – never apply pure biochar by itself!) and straw. Two of those halves (one in each bed) received the first Korean Natural Farming inputs.

According to Wikipedia, Korean natural farming (KNF) takes advantage of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa) to produce fertile soils that yield high output without the use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or industrial fertilizers. A result is improvement in soil health, improving loaminess, tilth and structure, and attracting large numbers of earthworms. This practice has spread to over 30 countries, and is used by individuals and commercial farms.

In Wayland, the main student and advocate of KNF is Kaat,who has studied the techniques, makes the inputs herself (this is fundamental to KNF: all inputs can be made at home from “indigenous” materials), and is in the second year of applying them. Last year she saw great improvement, especially in her berry bushes and fruit trees, but of course that is anecdotal. She is for that reason very curious about this side by side trial.

The first inputs, which aim to load the soil with the right organisms, were Kaat’s home-made Fish Amino Acids (FAA) and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), and EM-1 (not home-made and not traditionally a KNF input, but entirely in line with KNF).

The first seedlings (hardened-off broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Tom Thumb lettuce, arugula and pac choi will receive more FAA, as well as Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) and Oriental Herb Nutrient (OHN) once they’re over the transplant shock.

The idea of the trial arose when NOFA Mass invited farmers and gardeners to participate in biochar/no biochar trials. According to NOFA Mass, for centuries, biochar has been used throughout the world as a natural and easily-obtained soil amendment that builds microbial communities and long-term fertility in soils. Created through a process known as pyrolysis, biochar adds stable carbon to the soil, functioning to sequester atmospheric carbon, retain moisture, sweeten soil, and build rich habitat for microbes, nematodes, and fungi that aid in plant nutrient availability.  (More here).

All those sounded good to the Transition Wayland Community Gardens group. They accepted the invitation and worked with NOFA to fine-tune the experiments. One group will test biochar / no biochar in the two established raspberry beds. Kaat and Andrea wanted to try annual veggies, but they decided to take it one step further. They asked, what if the biochar – also called “condominiums for your micro-organisms” – doesn’t work so well, or even at all, if there are no micro-organisms? You can build it, but what if they dont come? So let’s see what happens if you add the char and the micro-organisms. A good way to do that is through KNF.

Keep an eye on this space to see!

In between juggling three loads of laundry, baking four “pumpkin” pies with the last root-cellared butternut squashes, and watching the home yard hive for swarming (better go in tomorrow and have a look!), I finally got the Michael Philips Holistic Spray onto the garden today. A bit late: the sour cherry, currants and jostaberry are flowering, the elders, blueberries and grapes are about to pop. But no insect damage yet, anywhere, so I may have caught it in time.

I use the Home Orchard Rate recipe in my 4-gallon backpack sprayer. One gets me through the entire garden, and it takes me about two hours (admittedly because the filter on the sprayer wand needs unclogging so often).

  • 2.5 ounces of pure neem oil with a generous teaspoonful of soap emulsifier (achieves a 0.5 percent neem concentration; more would burn the leaves)
  • 10 ounces of homegrown FAA
  • 6 ounces of mother culture of effective microbes (I use EM.1)
  • half a cup of Brix molasses
  • 5 tablespoons of liquid kelp

I also added a tablespoon of home-made OHN, and a tablespoon of WCa… that is, Water-soluble Calcium, another Korean Natural Farming input I’ve not explained yet (basically, eggshells dissolved in vinegar).

I also sprayed the assortment of indoor plants, mostly ferns, (pictured) while I was at it. The largest fern adorns our bathroom and it’s great only… it is growing exponentially! They’ve been with us throughout winter and we’ve not had a bug problem, and have 0bviously thrived, thanks to a mini-holistic spray once a month.

 

 

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Any day when I walk into my kitchen and come upon a scene like this, is a good day. In the morning my friend A and her family picked me up for a couple of hours pulling carrots at Siena Farm. Every Fall the farm invites their shareholders to come and help pull the carrots for the root cellars and the winter CSA boxes (which both A and I get). It always draws a crowd, and it was no different today in the sun-drenched field. The carrots came up willingly after being  harrowed up with their tractor. We pulled and snapped off the tops, filled boxes and boxes, and boxes.

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It’s the kind of thing you can just happily, mindlessly keep doing as long you don’t get chilled, or have to pee, or are reminded by a teenager that they have a friend coming over. I brought home a bag full of gleaned carrots (broken, nibbled on carrots or carrots that were just too plain funky) and a bag of carrot tops for the chickens. I also put some in a big pot of vegetable broth.

After washing all those carrots I decided to also wash the last apples and make some apple pie – I’ll bake up, sauce and dehydrate the rest tomorrow. My basement is just too warm for apples to keep well, so I’d better get them all in.

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Orphan pumpkins have started arriving at my mailbox. Here’s the first one – in the meantime I’ve brought up twelve, some massive ones among them. With the coffee grounds from the local roaster’s, pumpkins make for the best compost.

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dsc_4301dsc_3901_500One of the changes we made during the Local Food Challenge that we kept was the locally-grown-grain home-made bread. Four Star Farms  in Northfield, MA, has been my go-to place (either through Volante Farm when they stock it, or straight from the farm) for hard red winter berries, which I grind in my mighty Vitamix. Amie and I did enjoy the 45 minute “spin” when we borrowed my friend’s hand mill, but that Vitamix does a good enough job in under 3 minutes.

I use the Farm Feast easy no-knead hold-over-in-the-fridge method for a dense, moist, dark bread. As a whole grain bread it’s a bit finicky, though. It worked better with the Farm Feast’s Red Lammas and Redeemer berries than with Four Star’s Zorro. The latter possibly has less gluten action and often I had breads that weren’t fully risen/cooked. This time around I got Four Star’s Warthog, 20 lbs of it – it takes 1 lb 6 oz for one smallish bread. Let’s see if that is a better fit.

As for even more local eating, a couple of weeks ago I failed to report on my mushroom haul – possibly because it did not result in eating at all. Right down there, in wood chip heaven (heaven for fungi), I found hundreds of King Stropheria mushrooms bursting from the carbon carpet of wood chips after a big downpour (our Fall, compared to our Summer, has been downright delugional). Some were as large as 10 inches in diameter. The King rules! I plucked quite a few, distributing many of them into parts of that garden without, keeping some for ourselves.

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Unfortunately, the mushrooms were wet when I picked them, and there were quite a few more rainy days ahead of us. In the end, they didn’t dry but rotted to slime. We didn’t get a meal out of these, but we did get some neat spore prints, which became more seeds for the rest of the garden.

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Lastly, a small reporting of a conversation between mother and daughter.

  • What are you doing?
  • I cleaned up my car (aka the Bee Mobile, which is my beek office and storage space, and truck for honey-dripping bee boxes and straw bales, chicken food, etc., and which tonight will be the taxi for Amie and her two friends).
  • Yeay!
  • Well, mmm, not “cleaned up,” really, rather, mmm, made room in, for you guys to sit.
  • I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up!

I did put newspaper over the honey spill.

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I approached the second-last Farmers Market of the season with winter in mind. More tomato seconds (soup/sauce), more cauliflower (freeze), leek (freeze), corn (freeze if it doesn’t all get eaten before I get round to it), lots of onions, red and white (storage), 4 pecks of Cortland apples (rings and sauce), potatoes (storage), and spinach (freeze). We also got fish (eat immediately: it’s so fresh).  Luckily Russells Garden Center, where the Market is held, provides study carts for lugging bags of mulch and palms in pots, and produce.

It’s not just a joy buying the produce straight from the farmers. Ever since the almost daily routine of food photo shoots for the Omnivore’s Delight challenge I enjoy unpacking it, displaying it, taking pictures. Food is so photogenic.

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Especially tomatoes.

Then chopping and cutting and sauteing or blanching, serving and freezing, and offering the scraps to the chickens, in return for… more food. Serving it to people and getting to eat it together is icing on the cake.

{From Two Field Farm: 8 lbs seconds tomatoes = $16 / 2 lbs red onions = $4 / 5 lbs yellow onions = $10 lbs / 2.25 lb leeks = $6.75 / 2 bag of spinach = $8 / 5.5 lbs potatoes = $16.50 = $60.25 total —– From Brigham Farm: 10 ears of corn = $7.50 / 2 honey cauliflower – $6 / 8 heads of garlic (for seed) = $16 = $29.50}