Eco Evangelism

Look... Potato Soup!!

Look... Potato Soup!!

Lots of events coming up!

Tomorrow and next Wednesday my wife and I are off to staff some Slow Food events hosted by one of our Chef customers .  We will have the oppurtunity to educate the attendees on some of our favorite cultivars (we’ll have Kennebec, Purple Viking, Elba, Carola, and Desiree) as well as show how they can be combined with other easy to grow vegetables Garlic (Music), Onions (Red Baron) and Leeks (Blue Solaize) to create incredible hearty, healthy and sustainable food… with the dishes prepared by a gourmet chef!

Then, in less than a month, I will be participating in the Madison Bioneer Conference (From Here to There) as a panel speaker on Saturday afternoon 11/14 if anyone is in the area.  The event is promoting Real World solutions to food, energy, transportation, and community building to help us bridge to a Better Tomorrow.  A very strong focus will be on success stories already up and running in the area.  I am incredibly flattered that our little Suburban Experiment and small Market Garden were chosen to be part of such a cast of Heros (Will Allen is a Keynote speaker).  Very, very excited about this.

Bringing Bioneers 2009 Flyer

There are certainly enough headlines and anecdotal evidence out there to feed our inner Doomsday Voice.  It will be fantastic to be focused on evangelising on how far we’ve come in so little time (we  personally started less than 4 years ago) and using that message to inspire hundreds more to pick up the torch and start their own One Straw Revolutions.

Fukuoka lives on in our actions and we are forever in his debt.  More importantly we each have our own piece to add to the unfolding story that is our society’s answer to the challenges of our age.

Be the Change!


Straw / Sheet Mulch Potato Update: SPUDTACULAR!

So its been a crazy month – I’ve missed you all!  We’ve harvested over 1000#’s of potatoes -and sold them- hitting farmers markets for the first time.  There is at least another post of stories there, but for now suffice it to say we love that we have become “the Potato People” in at least two towns and that feels great.

With the farm gardens under control again, I spent a beautiful half hour this weekend working through the Straw Mulch Potatoes that I had put in as a test of deep mulched potatoes (no updates on the towers yet – 2 of the three are still growing and the third blighted so bad I only got 3 spuds for 4 seeds planted).  The Straw Mulch bed had 10 plants, and had been sheet mulched with 3″ of horse manure a year ago, and then got another foot of straw thrown on top as the potato plants grew.  No additional fertilizer, no sprays, and not much irrigation was provided (an inconsequential 10 gallons total from washing out compost buckets).  My hypothesis was that the rich, untilled soil from the sheet mulching combined with the more constant soil moisture provided by the deep straw mulch would help tuber size and plant vigor.  On top of that I was very curious to see if there was any credibility to the claims of increased tuber set from the deep mulch, and how the harvest labor would compare.

First off, I am very pleased with the yield and am convinced (as much as one can be after one test) that super rich soil and deep mulching equates to better yeilds.  Here is my proof:

30#'s of spuds from 10 plants!!!

30#'s of spuds from 10 plants!!!

With an average yield of 3#’s per plant I would be getting 270#’s per row at the farm – a 50% improvement over my current technique – and I was already getting a solid 8.5:1 harvest ratio!   I planted this bed with 4 medium sized Purple Vikings – just under 2#’s.  Yes you got that right – a 15:1 ratio which is near record yields for even conventional farmers.

To put that another way if I can scale this technique up and apply it to my current spacing (3′ rows, 14″ spacing)  I could get 43,500#’s per acre which equates to 18,600,000 million calories.   With the blight coming in growth was stunted and overall tuber size was down compared to what I expect from Purple Viking.  One plant had over 15 potatoes on it – but only a few over 3 oz and most had 8 or more.  If those had sized up to the typical 8oz+ …no I’m not gonna run that math, I’m getting faint from the possibilities!  Sheet mulching an acre will take 400 yards of horse manure – this system isn’t for the faint of heart- but my “base” soil is deader than a doornail so a larger trial at the farm on rich soil will be on the docket for next year.

As others have found, and I have begun to suspect, there was no addition tuber set that I could attribute to the deep mulch – the spuds were located low on the vine as usual, but the soil was evenly moist and full of worms.   Harvest was a breeze, though not as easy as the bucket method – just pull the straw back,  ruffle the moist, rich soil with your fingers, and pluck our spud, after spud, after spud, after spud.  ZERO lost spuds to pitchfork foibles to boot.  As a strip crop between young swaled permaculture tree crops this could be a VERY productive system to pay the bills as the chestnut / orchard comes on line.  Plus from my experience you get a significant net INCREASE in organic matter and it is very close to no till.

Can organic farming feed the world?  Show me a conventional farmer hitting 18,000,000 calories per acre .

FU Monsanto.  You’re Round Up Ready?  Big deal…  this system is Peak Oil Ready.

Be the Change!


PS: Here is a detailed and technical study of straw mulch for potato growing in Germany.  Graphs – oooo shiny!

Kennebec Poatoes i.e. The Lunker Spud

Moose Tubers bills the Kennebec as a potato capable of throwing some “lunkers”.  It is also known for being fairly simple to grow and an easy potato to cook with -good for everything from frying to baking to boiling.  Easy to grow and easy to cook -plus it produces big spuds?  I’m sold.

I am less than 15% of the way into my Kennebec patch, but I can personally confirm the “Lunker” claim.  In 60#’s of harvest potatoes this evening, I had 8 spuds over 1# each and 1 monster that broke 2#!  Also, we have a new Record Holder in the 1 Plant Harvest contest:

4 lbs 13 oz.  from one Kennebec Plant.  Top Left is 1# 1oz Top Right is 1# 13 oz!

4 lbs 13 oz. from one Kennebec Plant. Top Left is 1# 1oz Top Right is 1# 13 oz!

DANG are those some big spuds!  The “small” potatoes to the left would be considered larger than average Yukons.  Pretty impressed!  The 25′ tape is 3.25″ long for reference.   Unfortunately, the crop seems to be a bit sporadic – some plants are barely hitting 1# – the July drought came at a really bad time.  The plants that did well were in patches of mycorrhizal fungus that must have added to their water / nutrient intake – a trend I have seen all season and last.  Again, these potatoes were grown with no irrigation and no amendments other than a rye/vetch cover and over wintering 100 laying hens on the plot – about as close to zero input as possible.

It was great to have some good news  – tomorrow I am dropping my tomato tissues off at the Ag Extension for positive ID – but am fairly certain its Late BLight.  Also looks like it is hitting my other plot some too.  That sucks.

Again, good to have such huge potatoes to lighten the mood – baked potato for 3 anyone?


6′ Tall Weeds…

Funny thing happens when you build amazing soil, add a week or so of rain, and have taken a month off of farming. The good news is that I could readily see the reason why inter-row weeding with the wheel hoe is worth it at about 30 days from sowing the seed potatoes – the rows where I did this had very, very few weeds since the vigorous spuds had out-competed them.  The rows I missed, well lets just say I needed two hands to pull up the Amaranth, and the Lambsquarter I needed to put my back into play.  I had a 80′ row of 5-7′ tall weeds, with some isolated Amaranth specimens the size of mature dogwood bushes.  Sorry no pics (forgot the camera)- but trust me, the weeds were impressive.  

Though I still have some naggin pain which isn’t seeming to ever fade, I have 90+% back in my shoulder and most of the issues are as much from muscle atrophy as the injury.   I worked for 5 hours today, with almost no consideration given to the injury, so how it feels waking up tomorrow will be interesting.  All plots are now back in manageable condition – it is amazing how much work can be done in a day, and I definitely owe a debt to the crew of Michael Field’s students that pulled weeds 2 weeks ago in my late potato plot. And yes, I realize how amazing it is to have a crew of organic farming students helping out during my injury!

On the harvest side things are just beginning to trickle in: the first cucumber is in, I got 2 peppers from the Hoop House, and have been getting tomatoes for 2 weeks from the Hoop House as well -though they are splitting very early and have had no edible ones yet since they are rotting by the time they are red.  If I can figure that splitting out (they get steady water so it ain’t that), I must say that Silvery Fur is one of the most productive varieties I have ever seen – I have counted 4 dozen tomatoes (mature size about 4-5oz) on just one vine!  That is about 20#’s of tomatoes from 3 sq ft!!  In about 2 weeks I will have more produce than I know what to do with.  My restaurants can take up to 30#s a week, and we plan on canning / freezing a lot this year -August will be NUTS!

From a spud standpoint I am on the last rows of my Yukon Potatoes.  With 50#’s planted, I have about 175# harvested, with another 80-120#’s in the ground.  Figure just a bit over a 1:5 ratio, but given Yukons rep for low yields and that over half were harvest at baby size (33% mature weight but OHH so good!) I don’t feel to bad about that.  Carolas will likely be next and in about a month I will be swimming in spuds and ready to begin deliveries to my commercial clients.  Again, August will be nuts and thank the gods that the shoulder seems to be mending.   Dear god, I have 1750-2250#’s left to harvest…  

Hopefully the market holds at $1.50 to $2 per pound – I plan on building (finally!) my Bio-Diesel production unit ($600), doubling my home’s garden space ($400), buying a freezer ($300), building a root cellar ($500), and thanks to the new tax credit possibly a down payment on putting in a wood stove ($4000) with the proceeds.  Al-Queda has poppies, I have potatoes…

Happy Harvest Everyone!

Be the Change.


First Fruits and First Falls

I have good news and bad news.  First the good news:


10#'s of Baby Yukon Golds 6/30/09

10#'s of Baby Yukon Golds 6/30/09

The potato harvest has begun!  This is actually the third  mini-harvest, but the first 10#’s was eaten so fast we never got photos.   These are small – the largest barely the size of a croquet ball – but OMG are they delicious.  Harvesting this small severely cuts yields – Yukons only yield 3-4 spuds per plant on average – but I have over 2000 plants in the ground so sneaking some early is not a bad thing!

Now the bad news:

Dog Warrior

While a 35 year old, 190# man playing soccer against a bunch of 19 yr olds may be bad enough, what this picture does not show is the nasty digger I took in the game before this that separated my right shoulder.  I had a awesome time in my first competitive soccer tournament  (I was drafted Day Of due to several players not showing), but as the glow of the event fades I am left with the reality of  2-6 weeks of rest for my right arm.  

2 to 6 weeks!!! Are you kidding me?!  We are less than 3 weeks from prime potato harvest!   I am currently open to any and all options for harvesting 2500#’s of potatoes with one arm.  I am seriously considering switching the plot to the state’s only “Dig your Own” potato farm.  This sucks.


First Spuds!!!!

Here at One Straw we love potatoes. In fact I have an inordinate affection for the entire solanacea family which makes my rotations difficult in the garden, but that is another post. This year we went Big Time and planted 1000 row feet of potatoes from about 200#’s of seed stock from local growers and FedCo. The beds they went into were pure finished compost on a permaculture farm north of here. I had concerns about planting a monoculture block that large, we didn’t test the soil so I had concerns about that too -it was all leaf mulch compost -would it be deficient in nitrogen? minerals? But with time pressing in we jumped in and winged it. I will try to get some pics up soon from the fields, but suffice it to say that many of the Carola plants are over waist high! Better yet, the MASSIVE rains here in the upper midwest seem to have completely obliterated the Colorado Potato Beetles on the property. I have used essentially ZERO inputs on the planting -no BT, no fertilizer, no amendments, and only irrigated one day thus far in 60. Is it working? The pic at right should answer that question. We started harvesting baby taters last week -and we are already getting 12-16oz of spuds per plant. And the largest is barely 3″ long – with another month to bulk them up 3-4# per plant may be possible. Add in the fact that I have about 700 plants left to harvest, and I think my 1-2000# harvest is doable!

The dish pictured is about 1/3rd of a plant of baby taters, fried up with garlic scapes picked fresh, along with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt. Crap, I just drooled on the keyboard…again.

The skin on the Carola’s is so delicate you can actually rub it off when you are cleaning them and they keep their firmness amazingly well in the frying pan. Delicious!




I did it! I harvested a Target bag full of Spinach and Mache before April!!

This is the crop that was direct seeded on 10/22/07 and had its first (of MANY!) sub zero frosts within 4 weeks. This is the crop that survived the 2nd hardest winter on record for these parts. This is the crop that I had all but given up for dead at least twice when temps bottomed below zero for a week. This is the crop that has filled me to brimming with enthusiasm for 2008.  I have never harvested so early!

The plants are barely 3″ tall -they are hugging the warm earth in the hoop house-but they had enough leaves that I was able to take several from 2 out of 3 plants. I have less than 36 sq ft of Spinach planted, and only about 12 of the mache, but I am very impressed with the yeild! Best yet I shared 2/3 of the first harvest -first share went to the farmer whose land I am using, second share to a super sweet 86 year old woman who still garden/farms her 40 acres (she refused to take it as a gift and gave us a half pint of raspberry jam). Thank to Eliot Coleman and the guts to ask a neighbor to use their land at least 3 families are enjoying fresh spinach salad in the last week of March. Be the Change!

Other aspects of this very successful day:

  • Sprout and I mixed and sifted up a double wheel barrow of potting mix (compost:sand:soil:peat)
  • Started 800 lettuce plants in flats: 700 for me 100 for the farmer
    • The farmer has a massive heating mat greenhouse apparatus setup for my use -this is unreal
  • Started 160 tomato transplants
  • Turned 4 of my 7 beds (1 in garlic, 1 under rye/vetch, one left fallow for now) to get the straw under
    • This barely feels like tilling- the soil is so friable that I can sink the fork in completely without stepping on it
  • Started hardening off the next crop of mache: two flats
  • Planted 80 row feet of peas (40 snap, 40 edible pods)
  • Talked with Kevin from Edible Forest Nursery about my previously purchased heirloom pear tree when he came into the greenhouse/shed to get his pruning supplies. I will harvest it next weekend. It is 10′ tall and bore fruit last year.
    • The entire Forest Nursery is on the farm as well -a super happy Hmong family also grows there too along with one or two other folks… it is a veritable sustainable mecca.

Put it all together… today was damn near perfect.

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