An Organic Perspective

One of the most common, and utterly ridiculous, criticisms of “organic” methods of agriculture is that they can’t keep up in quality and volume with conventional chemical methods. I am prone to picking fights, and this one gets me spitting mad. It takes forms as benign as my family condescendingly nodding their heads as I describe my deep mulching to make my own fertilizer (while all the while musing about all the money I am throwing away when my perennials die), to the much more damaging argument that a switch to organic methods would doom the world to starvation-we can’t “feed the world” without Big Ag. That is a load of hooey, and my .1 acre project is hell bent on proving that. So here are some “Where’s Beo” shots of my gardens to lend some perspective, literally, on organic methods.

Right, so that is my ugly mug about 2/3 of the way up my Golden Bantam Sweet Corn. I am 5′ 7″. All of these shots will look weedy, but that is due to the polyculture plantings-in this same bed is also basil, beans, and melons.

One of my 7 Tomatoe Teepees (4 plants each). This one is some of the freakishly vigorous yellow pear plants from Seed Savers. The plants have easily climbed over 6′ tall in less than 2 months! The teepees are so sturdy that I didn’t lose a single plant in a particularly vicious storm front last week with 50mph winds and 3-4″ of rain. This bed also contains 1.5 dozen pepper plants and has an understory (waaaay under these days!) of white dutch clover for weed suppression, insect attraction, and nitrogen. The teepees also offer fantastic habitat for our black and yellow garden spiders which are superb general predators taking the edge off any pest invasion.

This is a shot of one of our native beds. Not a prairie as it was planned primarily for aesthetics but all plants are native to Wisconsin. The cupplant I am behind are only 3 years old and are well over 8′ tall with leaves the size of dinner plates. This bed has seen no fertilizer other than deep mulching-and the droppings from the numerous voles, sparrows, finches, and chickadees that frequent it!

The key to any gardening regime is meeting the plants needs-the heavy feeding corn, melons, and tomatoes got a very healthy dose of horse manure (1-2″). In addition the tomato bed was cover cropped with a rye/vetch last fall, and the corn bed was the bottom of the massive sod based compost pile of last year’s prairie restoration. The beds also had prep with green sand for trace nutrients, and periodic applications of either composted chicken manure or fish emulsion. With the exception of the fish emulsion and green sand, all of the inputs to these beds are readily accessible on any well balanced (livestock+diverse plantings) small farm-the way 90% of farming was done in Wisconsin 90 years ago when my grandfather was supporting a family of 10 doing it. I will put my yields up against anyones-and this is on only 3 year old gardens on top of a soil made up of a sand/gravel/clay mix from a quarry used as backfill in our subdivision.

“Beyond” Organic Farming works amazingly well-my 8′ corn has impressed the heckfire out of me. I got 40#’s of potatoes off of 100 sq ft-that works out to about 9 tonnes per acre which compares very favorably with conventional yeilds… and that is with a lower yeilding Purple Viking strain v. the typical Russets.

Be the change!

5 Responses

  1. Wow, cool stuff. Mine’s all a bit stunted with our super-dry spring, but hanging in there. Just about to go pick up some more free mulching materials, and hopefully some more of that organic dairy manure. And I’ve almost talked my neighbors into hauling their horse manure over to my place for “disposal”. Plus, they just added llamas!

    An acquaintance of mine showed me a cool trick. Sawdust plus dried molasses from the feed store equals TONS of worms. A single random handful from his pile yielded at least ten fat and wriggling worms…

  2. I am all about getting more worms in the gardens! We are definitely making headway in that regard. Our biggest issue is the ecological desert of the soil in our lawn. However about 100′ away is the DOT Quack Grass Sea that has a healthy soil ecosystem. I have added a 2′ wide green manure garden along our fence line from the back DOT fence up to my Forest gardens to help the worms migrate up.

    Manure rocks-lots of good critters, plenty of free nitrogen, and then lots of organic matter from the bedding for future soil enrichment. Huge Fan of the results this year. 8′ Corn!

    If memory serves llama manure is not “hot” and you can hit your gardens with is fresh-just the usual cautions about mixing fresh manure on food crops.

  3. Nice pics!

    Question about the tomato teepee: What kind of stakes are you using, and what kind of wire/twine/string/etc are you using as supports?

  4. Hey Beo–

    I intensively planted my taters this year in two 4×4 boxes, basically one eye per sq ft and I was able to get 25 pounds out of these two boxes. If I’m working the math right this works out to 75 pounds for a 100 sqft bed. (And I harvested one box a month too early even)

    I just mentioned this as it might be a method to get even more from a small space.

    I just used normal potatoes so maybe that’s the cause. Who knows. I’ll try to repeat it next year and see what happens.

    I didn’t put anything on them but grass clippings and leaves to cover them up. Not even any compost.

  5. Hey guys!

    Bart-the poles are 7′ bamboo that I found at K-Mart of all places for about $1 each. For tie ups I found (also at K-Mart) a dispenser of what is basically the tie straps you find on bread-thin wire wrapped in paper. I use them evey 1′ or so. I did a poor job pruning though and they are a 5′ tall hedge right now. Still it is incredibly more effective than the wire cages for indeterminate plants. Next year I might fab up some sort of spacer for the top of the teepee as they get rather crowded in top 2′.

    Matt-those are fantastic yields! I had my hills planted somewhat sparser-about 2′ triangles in a zig-zag double row. Not sure if that makes any sense-imagine 2 rows with the plants never more/less than 2′ apart in any direction. I think I can go 18″ centers next year and get another 4 plants in which might better mimic your spacing and try to come close to your wicked high yields.

    The Purple Vikings are unbelievably delicious and the yukon golds I also grew didn’t pan out as well so I might go mono-crop next year.

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