Great Bennie Bug Guide

Attracting “good bugs” to our yard is a primary design consideration in both our home permaculture gardens, and at our market gardens.  Having permanent Beneifical Insect Populations and Sustainable Soil Fertility are the two main reasons I designed the, as yet untested, Sustainable Market Garden.  But I am not an entimologist, so how do I know what bugs I am attracting?

Luckily there are resources out there like ATTRA to help a brother out.  They put up a PDF from the Oregon State University, which is a high quality “pocket guide” to benificial insects.  I took the liberty of posting it here:

Pocket Guide for Beneficial Insects

Very high quality photos help you identify the buggers, and put a name to them -and if the guide is short on text it will at least allow you to have a solid idea of what is in your gardens, which will allow you to go back an ddo more research.

Speaking of research, this field is WIDE open -start tracking where you find soldier beetles and hover flies and get it on the web.  We all need to learn from each other

-Rob

Updates

It’s happening again, the distinct ying/yang effect of the amount of blogging waning as my amount of doing waxes.  Here are some quick updates to where some of the projects are at.

Market Garden 

BIG NEWS: I have permission to utilize as much of .5 acres as needed!  This is at the site about 4 miles from my home.  As reality sets in on the amount of work that this will take, I am thinking of sticking to just one 50×100 foot section that will be tilled under this spring, and then start a chicken tractor rotationally grazing what will be the other 50×100 garden.  This will allow for essentially ALL the beds to be taken out of production annually for soil building and grazed by 10-20 layers in 1-2 tractors.  As we get closer to planting time (OMG I have to start seedlings in less than 2 weeks!!) my research, planning, budgeting and shopping have gone into High Gear.  Uber exciting!

Eco Victory Garden

The presentation went over very well and we will be meeting again this weekend for a more in depth discussion.  The name appears to be morphing from a “victory garden” into a “Household Ecology Center” to stress the system thinking inherent in it.  Big Thanks to Emily at Eat Close to Home for her suggestion of using a second plastic barrel for the composter -that may very well make it to the final system: it saves $30, cuts an hour off the instalation and is better sized to the garden.  Lots of momentum on this

Winter Reading 

In addition to catalogues from Fed-Co, Johnny’s and Seed Savers, I am currently devouring Andy Lee’s Chicken Tractor  as I will be putting them to use in about 8 weeks.  Love his idea of simple straw bale structure for winter housing.   Also getting time in the queue is Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0 which is one of the most important books I’ve read.  Lays out the immediacy, magnitude, and potential solutions to the problems of our generation.   We need to Get Real.  Now.  On the less immediate and lighter side I am also dabbling with Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage.  I plan to build one of these with the farm owners who are letting me use their land.  I’ll need it to -on another property I intend to grow 1500+ lbs of potatoes…

Garden Planning

Another tip from Emily was GrowVeg.com. I signed up for their 30 day trial and so far the system is fairly slick and certainly faster than my cobbled together spreadsheets.  Really like the fact that you draw the plans and it calculates planting rates with numbers of plants and then builds a plant list including planting times, etc.  Interface is not as inuititve as I would like (very few hot keys), but its not bad.  Big downer is that it is a subscription based system, not a downloadable software pack.  At $35/year it will add up and I have to have internet to view the plans.  Grrr.

The reality of the coming year is sinking in.  I will be growing food on a scale completely outside any reference I have ever had.  It appears I will have livestock, and I will also be very involved in a local sustainability group that is dreaming big enough that we have booths at both our county fair and the MREA I am also still maintaining my 50hr/wk salaried job and then there are little things like my essential roles as husband and father…  I also would like to blog 70k words this year as I hope that others can continue to learn from my trials.  At least the days are longer in the summer…

Keeping perspective will be difficult this year, but I have had enough people offer help with the market garden that I am continuing to dillude myself that I can still juggle all these eggs without any breaking.

-Rob

Phenology and Other Hard to Pronouce Words

I see two keys to a sustainable ag system -either sub acre or otherwise. The first is to restore the soil to very high fertility levels, including ecosystem diversity, and then maintain those levels despite harvests. The second is to build a stable ecosystem around the farm that reduces pest pressures to acceptable levels in most years. There is an immense amount of material on the first issue -cover cropping, crop rotation, manuring, tilling strategies, etc. The second takes some serious digging to find the only recently building body of knowledge.

Agro-Ecology and Permaculture are making significant strides in discovering how Nature does what She does, but I recently discovered another strain of research that seems to be very interesting as well: Phenology: using indicator plants or phenomena to determine when things like weather conditions are beneficial or when pests will become active. Much of Phenology sounds alot like Old Wives Tales:

“Plant peas when maple trees flower”, “Transplant when you see swallows swooping close to the ground”, “Sow potatoes when the leaves of the white oaks are the size of a cats ear”

But hidden in the folklore is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that is only know being “verified” by modern testing techniques. What that science is telling us is that plants typically preform their various stages (flowering, leafing out, etc) at very specific times, often in relation to soil temps which vary year to year in regards to the actual calendar. Our ancestors knew that the general soil temp correlating with flowering maple trees was allot more consistent than planting peas every year on, say, March 14th or 6 weeks before the first frost date like the gardening books tell us.

Applied Phenology is now becoming a more accepted practice, especially with the rise of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in more conventional Ag. I found a good primer from the University of Wisconsin here, as well as 1.4 MB of text on ATTRA -most of which are links (God I love ATTRA!!!). There is allot to learn out there!

My hope is that Applied Phenology will be one tool to help me to better match flowering plants around the garden plots to the life cycles of pests I am seeking to control by fine tuning my flower selection via bloom times.  150 years ago this Top Down approach was not necessary, but the more I research, the more I learn that to be Sustainable we must first restore much of what we have damaged: be it soil fertility or biodiversity in the soil, the hedgerows, and the plants themselves.  “You must unlearn, what you have learned…”

I also find all this stuff just fascinating… I love it when science has to eat crow and go back to folklore to learn a thing of two!

-Rob

1/10 Acre Veggie Garden

I’ve been dorking out on my new MacBook and the iWork software I bought with it. Thus far, despite complete ignorance of Macs, I have found the Pages and Numbers applications to be very intuitive and much slicker for my purposes than the Microsoft equivalents I use at work. Unfortunately, apparently only 4 other people in the world us them, so to share documents I export into PDF’s- a lot. Here is one:

1/10th Acre Sustainable Veggie Plot

At first blush there is a lot of wasted space. A 4000 sq ft garden with only 1000 sq ft of “productive” beds?! But 33% of the beds are designed to be under long season cover crop at all times- as I get more elegant with my rotations this may be overkill. There is also 1000 sq ft of perennial herb/flower beds to attract benificials that will also produce significant amounts of cut flowers and trace nutrients for the table. This is critical to the long term sustainability of the plot. Without attracting and keeping a strong population of beneficial insects, bacteria and fungus eventually the gardens will fal prey to overwhelming pest invasions. The paths may be overkill and could easily be trimmed from their current 2′ to as little as 1′ on every other path. I would keep the 5′ access path for harvesting the significant amounts of produce from this garden and for trucking in compost and mulch. The “wasted” space allows the soil to rest and recharge fertility after being “pulsed” with heavy feeding annual vegetable crops. The hope is that by incorporating so much cover crop and perrenials that the plot will add fertility over time without additional inputs.

Another specific goal I was trying to design into this layout was a rotation system to significantly reduce the pest pressures of conventional vegetable gardens. Circling the entire perimiter with a diverse mix of flowers designed to attract predatory insects will force any pests to run a gauntlet before reaching the crops. For the same reason every year, the rotation crosses a perenial bed to force any pests that over winter to search far and wide for their food-increasing the likelihood that they will become food themselves in turn. As the rotation crosses the flower bed, it “drops” one bed, once it reaches the “bottom” of its three bed section it will cross back to the top. I tried to show this in the PDF but it got wicked busy. I may try again as this description is rough too.

The Rotational system divides the crops into groups by Plant Family, allowing 2 beds per plant family per year. Following the rotation ensures that 6 years passed between each plant family residing in each bed. Added layers of biodiversity and productivity can be added by incorporating succesional plantings in each bed to get two crops, and/or preceding or succeeding each with a short season cover crop to rebuild soil structure.

This design can be cut in half or more by shortening the beds from 40′ to 20′, 10′ or less, and can be expanded indefinitely by stacking layouts next to each other. I also plan on making this a “no-till” using chicken “tractors” to incorporate cover crops and fertilize the beds after harvest and before plantings. By not breaking the soil surface you encourage immensely more productive and diverse soil ecosystems, and it also makes it Peak Proof by taking out the fossil fuels completely.

I have 3 more books on this subject in my Winter Reading queue which should help me fill in the holes of the successional plantings in each bed each year, and also to get more specific with the plants I will place in the Perennial Beneficial Beds. This will eventually be made into a “page” under sustainable ag as I fill in the gaps. I also fully intend on putting this design into practice at the Market Garden this year, and the learnings once I put spade to soil will be legion.

-Rob

Spin Doctors

With all the focus lately on the Ag and Energy Bills, the lobbyists, PR departments and other Evil Doers have been working overtime to cloud our minds, empty our wallets, and expand our waist lines.

This Article from AlterNet is a prime example. Several comments such as the ADA’s concerning that “consumers will continue to go to Fast Food”, ergo we must continue to subsidize their fattening of America and encourage them to Spin their “Light” options. I am sorry, but cutting 25% of the fat off of a Big Mac leaves 45 grams too many and the last time I checked the “healthy” apple slice at McDonald’s were laced with High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Monsanto’s comments are the ones that really got my hackles up. The age old arguments that Big is Better: “Organic can’t feed the world”: Bullsh/t. Acre for Acre sustainable ag can match the yeilds of Big Ag, and does so in a manner that ensures those yields are possible for generations. Plus these yields are real food, not some nutritionally defunct shell of a plant living in dead soil. The “Organic can’t feed the world” argument is based off current paradigm thinking which has little to show for it except the destruction of Rural America, record obesity levels, and destruciton of prime farmland on an unprecedented scale. The need for McDonald’s goes down in a society of gardeners. Our grocery bill drops 75% form June through August.

And that is the real problem. Monsanto is beholden by law to maximize the return for their share holders ( i.e. my lack of consuming is a direct threat); there is no law against lying straight faced to the consumers. And thanks to the lobbyists and our god awful election financing laws, the Corps have more pull than you or me.

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and cause me to tremble for safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic destroyed.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864

In this time of Enthroned Corporations, actions as simple as growing your own food are Revolutionary Acts to save the Republic. Be the Change!

-Rob

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