Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Food Price Riser: Cap and Trade Laws

Apparently, under the new cap and trade legislation, money will be available for people who plant trees (to be paid for by industries who need to pollute). The net result: farm land taken out of production to grow trees, so food supply falls, leading price rises. It is also understood by all that increased fuel and fertilizer costs are baked into the legislation as well, which will also serve to drive up food costs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has ordered his staff to revise a computerized forecasting model that showed that climate legislation supported by President Obama would make planting trees more lucrative than producing food.

The latest Agriculture Department economic-impact study of the climate bill, which passed the House this summer, found that the legislation would profit farmers in the long term. But those profits would come mostly from higher crop prices as a result of the legislation's incentives to plant more forests and thus reduce the amount of land devoted to food-producing agriculture.

The legislation would give free emissions credits, known as offsets, to farmers and landowners who plant forests and adopt low-carbon farm and ranching practices. Farmers and ranchers could sell the credits to help major emitters of greenhouse gases comply with the legislation. That revenue would help the farmers deal with an expected rise in fuel and fertilizer costs.

Allison Specht, an economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said other studies have largely confirmed the results of the EPA and Agriculture Department analysis. "That's one of the realities of cap-and-trade legislation. The biggest bang for your buck for carbon credits is planting trees," she said.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Food will Never Get this Cheap Again

Great article by AEP in the Telegraph analyzing the world food commodities market, which has been stuck in deflation, while other commodities are inflating. Increasing high food demand due to population growth in food-importing regions seems to guarantee high prices in the future.

The world's grain stocks have dropped from four to 2.6 months cover since 2000, despite two bumper harvests in North America. China's inventories are at a 30-year low. Asian rice stocks are near danger level. Yet farm commodities have largely missed out on Bernanke's reflation rally in metals, oil, and everything else. Dylan Grice from Société Générale sees "bargain basement" prices.

Wheat has crashed 70pc from early 2008. Corn has halved. The "Ags" have mostly drifted sideways over the last six months. This divergence within the commodity family is untenable, given the bio-ethanol linkage to oil.

The world population is adding "another Britain" every year. This will continue until mid-century. By then we will have an extra 2.4bn mouths to feed.
China and Southeast Asia are switching to animal-protein diets as they grow wealthy, as the Koreans did before them. It takes roughly 3-5kgs of animal feed from grains to produce 1kg of meat.
A report by Standard Chartered, The End of Cheap Food, said North Africa and the Middle East have already hit the buffers. The region imports 71pc of its rice and 58pc of its corn. It lacks water to boost output. The population is growing fast. It will have to import, and cross fingers.
The UN says global farm yields must rise 77pc, which means redoubling Norman Borlaug's "green revolution". It will not be easy. China's trend growth in crops yields has slipped from 3.1pc a year in the early 1960s to 0.9pc over the last decade
"We've all heard the stark anecdotes: precious topsoil weakened by over-farming, dust clouds darkening the Asian skies, parched land becoming desert and rivers running dry," said Mr Grice.
Since 2000, China has lost nearly 1,400 square miles each year to desert. Urban sprawl is paving over fertile land in the East. Water supply from Himalayan glaciers is ebbing. The Yellow River has been reduced to "an agonising trickle". It no longer reaches the sea for 200 days a year.
Farmers are draining the aquifers. Environmentalist Ma Jun says in China's Water Crisis that they are drilling as deep as 1,000 metres into non-replenishable reserves. The grain region of the Hai River Basin relies on groundwater for 70pc of irrigation.
China's water troubles are not unique. North India lives off Himalayan snows as well. Nor can we take fertiliser supply for granted any longer since "peak phosphates" threatens.

One can be Malthusian about this. Grizzled commodity guru Jim Rogers certainly is. "The world is going to have a period when we cannot get food at any price, in some parts." He advises youth to opt for a farm degree rather than an MBA, if they want to make serious money.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cuba Demonstrates Large Scale Low Tech Farming

Cuba was hit with massive oil shortages after the fall of the Soviet Union, and their mechanical agriculture industry suffered greatly for it. However, they made the transition after a couple years. Quite an amazing story, providing a blueprint for how low-tech organically-based farming can work on a mass scale.

Twenty years ago, Cuban agriculture looked very different. Between 1960 and 1989, a national policy of intensive specialised agriculture radically transformed Cuban farming into high-input mono-culture in which tobacco, sugar, and other cash crops were grown on large state farms.

Cuba exchanged its abundant produce for cheap, imported subsidised oil from the old Eastern Bloc. In fact, oil was so cheap, Cuba pursued a highly industrialised fuel-thirsty form of agriculture - not so different from the kind of farming we see in much of the West today. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the oil supply rapidly dried up, and, almost overnight, Cuba faced a major food crisis. Already affected by a US trade embargo, Cuba by necessity had to go back to basics to survive - rediscovering low-input self-reliant farming.

With no petrol for tractors, oxen had to plough the land. With no oil-based fertilisers or pesticides, farmers had to turn to natural and organic replacements. Today, about 300,000 oxen work on farms across the country and there are now more than 200 biological control centres which produce a whole host of biological agents in fungi, bacteria and beneficial insects.

Havana has almost 200 urban allotments - known as organiponicos - providing four million tonnes of vegetables every year - helping the country to become 90% self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. The organiponico uses raised beds filled with about 50% high-quality organic material (such as manure), 25% composted waste such as rice husks and coffee bean shells, and 25% soil.

As well as marigolds, basil and neem trees are planted around the containers to keep the aphids and beetles at bay. Sunflowers and corn are also planted around the beds to attract beneficial insects such as ladybirds and lace wings. Sticky paper or plastic funnel-shaped bottles are positioned throughout the beds to trap harmful pests that do get into the garden.

At the time of the oil shock, average calorie consumption in Cuba dropped by a third to dangerously low levels. Since then they have bounced back and Cubans eat just a little less than people in the UK. The biggest difference is that a Western diet includes about three times as much food energy from animal products like meat and dairy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Community Gardens Victims of Theft

If you don't fence your yard, or put your garden where it is not visible to passers-by, this is pretty much inevitable. I think many upper middle class White gardeners, because of their upscale and moral neighbors, fail to appreciate the how common theivery is, in poor neighborhoods. People walking by will walk into your yard and literally just help themselves to your produce. It is aggravating, to say the least.

This article is from St. Louis, but it can happen anywhere a garden is put in a poor neighborhood. If you don't fence and hide your garden, you are inviting theivery. Sad, but just the reality of the American mentality. It's just a microcosm of our whole social contract: the do-gooders make the wealth, the ne'erdowells take the wealth, without any feeling of obligation whatsoever.

I agree with the biblical dictum, "He who doesn't work, doesn't eat."

Veggie Vandals: community gardens deal with theft

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Community gardens in St. Louis are becoming less open to the community following a surge of thieves helping themselves to the bounty of fruit and vegetables.

In some cases, the people who pay a fee for the land and volunteer their time to cultivate the plots are being forced to place their gardens under lock and key.

"We've had people come in periodically when the tomatoes were especially ripe and taking a few," said Terry Lueckenhoff, one of the gardeners at the Fox Park community garden. "But this year, people have come in and cleaned the garden out."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the garden's 30 beds, filled with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, are now locked behind a gate.

Friday, August 21, 2009

When Chickens are Outlawed, only Outlaws Will Have Chickens

Luckily, chickens are legal in Mesa, Arizona! Up to 10, even with roosters, as long as they aren't too loud. See here

However, some city folk in Indiana are not so lucky, and are forced by the tyrranical government into the Chicken Underground!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Late Summer Watermelons

Amazing results for the watermelons, the only crop still standing after all this summer heat. Interplanting with the pumpkins turned out to be not quite the bad idea it looked like at first. The pumpkins have long died off, but watermelon vines are thriving, producing tons of little yellow flowers and lots of growing fruit.

The early variety of watermelon (sugar babies) already produced and died off, now the late variety (crimson) is kicking into high gear. You can see it here growing amid all the dried up corn stalks.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

NY Times Notices Chicken Surge

Apparently there has been a boom market in backyard chickens this past year, nationwide. Makes sense to me!

My chickens are reaching maturity, managing the heat just fine. They are pretty birds. I've always been a bird person, so they are great pets in my book. The fact that you can eat their eggs (or them!!!) is just a bonus point.

Many people comment on the fact that raising chickens for eggs is not economically profitable, but so far I have not seen an analysis done when the cost of feed is offset using permaculture methods. Raising your own feed can certainly help offset costs.

The main source of money loss that I have encountered is that the little sparrows will fly into the coop and eat the chicken feed! I need to get out there an tighten up the netting, but in all this summer heat, I have not made the effort.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Delicious Watermelons

Even watermelons are better when home grown! Softer rinds, and juicier. I have fallen in love with watermelons as an Arizona crop. The Sugar Babies produced much better than the other kinds for me. We ate this one so fresh, the juice was still warm from being out in the sun!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big Max Pumpkins

The Big Max variety has produced some big pumpkins, as billed, and has also lasted longest into the summer heat. The Jack-o-lantern variety produced more pumpkins, but they are smaller, and the plants have withered up for the most part by now. The Big Max pumpkins are still going strong.

Sunflowers and Rainbows

Nice little double rainbow popped out yesterday at sunset, against the backdrop of a dark sky. The Creator's glorious handiwork nicely displayed!

The mammoth sunflower packet said 7-12 feet, and by gum, it delivered! Check these babies out, with my own sweet Mother Earth, a six foot lady, in the foreground for perspective.

Mother Earth with Sunflowers

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Watermelons: a Great Arizona Crop

Watermelons are handling the heat best, and they are much less space-intensive than the squash or pumpkins. I also notice they are setting just as much fruit as the pumpkins and squash. Here they are, growing well:

Heat Tolerant Vine Crops

Planting heat tolerant crops is vital when Victory Gardening in Arizona during the summer. The following is a list in descending order of heat tolerance, among the traditional "summer" vine-type crops.

Most Heat Tolerant
Least Heat Tolerant

We have not had the hottest spring on record, its been pretty nice lately, in fact. We hovered around 100 degrees a couple weeks ago, but since then, it has been in the mid/upper 90's. Still, while not yet reaching the scorching 110's of true AZ summer, the crops can show daytime wilt.

The most prone to heat wilt, I have found, are cantelope, cucumbers, and squash, which get stressed out in the upper 90's.

So far, the okra and watermelons have had absolutely zero problem with the heat. The pumpkins are more mixed, but the jumbo variety is standing up the best.

The tomato leaves show some stress when the get a bit dry, but they handle the heat just fine for the most part.

Here is a nice trick I have found to keep the cucumber's happy: interplanting with the okra. The cucumbers seem to like the shade that the okra provides, but the okra is not as dominating as the pumkins or squash, for example. Nice companions, as you can see below, the cucumber is thriving under the okra, but getting burned up on its own.

Cucumber burning up on its own below

Giant Zucchini

The zucchini is doing well! Not as prolific as I had hoped, but certain plants are producing well, and I will collect seed from them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Flagstaff Victory Gardens

Here is an article about the community (i.e. government sponsored) victory gardens in Flagstaff:

Like affordable downtown Flagstaff apartments, plots at community gardens are hot commodities. There are more people now longing to churn their own patches of dirt than garden plots available, says the city. Apartment and condo dwellers are signing up on waiting lists. "In fact, I've been out there gardening and people have stopped by, saying 'Hey, do you know whether there are any plots coming open?'" said Todd Barnell, a gardener who has a space in one community garden.

Reacting to that demand, plus complaints from some that their beloved gardens on donated land come and go at the whim of the landowners, the city has started its first community garden along the Rio de Flag, at Bonito Street and Elm Avenue. It comes in addition to about five community gardens, and could be the first of a few. "You know, the economy has not been all that great, and they're very limited on the existing community gardens," said Joe Haughey, a Flagstaff city councilman who came up with the idea after reading about Victory Gardens grown during World War II. "This is sort of a pilot project to basically create a template so that we could have a bunch of them around town next year," Haughey said.

Barnell and his partner use their plot to grow food, as does another garden member who grinds her own wheat to make bread. "An awful lot of people who use community gardens in this town are using them to supplement their actual supply of food," Barnell said. "... It's not just for fun. It's a way to actually save money on your food." He grows and dries beans, which he eats all winter.

Gardeners at Elm and Bonito pay $35 a year for an 80-square-foot plot. The fee is mainly for the expense of water in a garden that takes up a small fraction of a city block. For groups, it's $65 for 160 square feet. "I think they're going to provide an excellent opportunity for education of school children and get people back to the idea of knowing where their food comes from," said Bob Hoffa, city conservation manager. The first one will likely serve 15 or 20 gardeners and opened May 23.

It is hoped that any excess food could be donated to food banks, and some sort of food contribution could become part of the rent in the city gardens in the future, Hoffa said.

The city spent about $2,000 building the garden, along with water infrastructure. Previously, gardeners using community gardens have become discouraged when their donated land has been redirected for other use, or when land owners have told them they didn't like the sight of certain plants, said Barnell, who also sits on the city's sustainability commission. Haughey is calling the garden a victory or community garden, and a way to cut some of the greenhouse gas emissions generated in transporting food to Flagstaff.

In a time of rationing food domestically to feed troops, Flagstaff was probably home to many Victory Gardens during World War II, said local author and historian John Westerlund. "Because so much food was required for the U.S. serviceman fighting overseas, people in the U.S. were encouraged to grow some for themselves," he said.

To learn more about the city of Flagstaff community gardens, call Bob Hoffa at 213-3600.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Concerns Mount Over Sharp Rise in Food Costs

The food shortages and price spike of last summer feels like a distant memory at this point, especially after the collapse in commodity prices over the winter. But.... They're baaaaa'aaack! Investor speculation, falling dollar, supply shortages, all conspiring to drive an up-spike again, and here we are at just the beginning of summer. From an article originally in the Financial Times:

After a year worrying about the piggy bank, the world economy is turning its attention to the cupboard. Almost unnoticed, agricultural commodities prices have returned to levels last seen at the start of the 2007-2008 food crisis, prompting concerns about a fresh rise in food costs. The increase in soybean, corn, and wheat prices – to their highest level in eight to nine months and up more than 50 per cent from their December lows – comes on the back of strong Chinese demand, a forecast of lower supply due to reduced planting, and the impact of a drought in Latin America. Traders say hedge funds and other big institutional investors, including sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East, have poured money into the agricultural market, helping to drive commodities prices higher as the US dollar weakens.

The surge in prices is a reminder of how the world’s food security has deteriorated, after years of comfortable surpluses, analysts and executives say. “Agricultural markets are fairly nervous,” says an agricultural commodities analyst at Barclays Capital in London. “We are not in the comfortable food surplus environment of the 1980s and 1990s.” Mike Mack, chief executive of Syngenta, one of the largest manufacturers of chemicals for agriculture, echoes a widely held view when he says that although the “headlines from the past year on the food crisis have been replaced by those on the economic crisis”, the “long-term challenge to produce enough food” has not disappeared.'

The price of soymeal – critical for fattening livestock such as chickens and hogs – has moved above $405 a ton, a level only seen for a brief period in 1973 and during four weeks at the peak of last year’s crisis. The rise has pushed the price of ready-to-cook chicken in the US to the highest in a decade.

In rare public comments, Christopher Mahoney, a director at Glencore Grain, the secretive trading house based in Rotterdam, warned last week that supplies of some agricultural commodities such as corn and soy were “pretty tight”. Lewis Hagedorn, an agricultural commodities analysts at JPMorgan in New York, describes the situation as one of anxiety but not yet alarm. “We are approaching a level of concern with respect to inventories in some areas, although we are not presently in a crisis mode. We are not well prepared from a supply and demand balance sheet perspective to absorb any weather-related surprise.”

The immediate concern is soy, both because of its use as food but even more as livestock feed. Strong Chinese consumption, as the country’s diet moves from vegetables to meat, and the crop failure in Argentina, the world’s third largest exporter, have created extraordinary pressure on US supplies, sending inventories down to the lowest level in 40 years. Soybean prices on Tuesday hit $12.45½ a bushel, a fresh nine-month high. Soy is trading at the level of April 2008, after rising almost 60 per cent from its December’s low. Soya is, nonetheless, still below last year’s record of $16.5 a bushel.

Looking at the 2009-10 season, analysts fear a drop in cereals production, in corn and, to a lesser extent, in wheat, as farmers cut their planted acreage in response to low prices last autumn, higher cost for inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, and difficulties securing finance in some countries. Production in countries such as Ukraine and Brazil is down because farmers did not have access to credit.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Future of Food: Factory Buildings

Great article about "the future of food", practiced in Japan today: completely enclosed in a "food factory" laboratory, with all elements (light, water, oxygen, C02, even dust) controlled like a microchip clean room.

Obviously, such food is capital-intensive, and only makes sense in certain economic environments. Such as high land prices, cheap electricity, expensive labor, high technology, and protectionist walls against imported food (i.e. all the conditions that prevail in Japan and Japan only). Given America's cheap land and cheap labor, such food is not going to be cost effective.

But it is fascinating, isn't it? Food that has never touched soil, dirt, or bugs, never seen the sun or felt the wind. Kinda spooky, really. Space ship colonies, here we come!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Small Farm Tractor Advice

Couple of useful letters follow, published over at Surivival Blog:

James,I just wanted to respond to the recent article on small tractors. In 1981 my wife and I bought 12 acres and started market gardening, selling produce locally. I grew about 3 acres of produce each year and put up hay for animals. Our first big investment at the time was a BCS 725 machine with the tiller and sickle-bar mower attachments. We used that machine, and used it hard.
Today it's 2009 and I just finished cutting hay and putting in my green bean patch, using that 725. It's still on the original engine, which has never been rebuilt, only annual oil changes for the last 27 years. It no longer starts on the first pull, these days it starts on the second pull each time, but guess I can't complain too loud about that.

In my life I must admit I've made very few incredibly good investments, but that Model 725 is definitely one of them. It's saved me untold labor and has just simply worked for 27 years without a bit of trouble. It's like an old Ford 8N, it just keeps running and doing what it's supposed to do. Old farm equipment was made to last forever, the BCS machines are farm equipment, not cheap consumer toys. The price reflects it, but from my opinion they're a bargain in the long run. Highly recommended. - Bobalu

Hello Mr. Rawles,Regarding the recent letters on micro-farm tractors, I have another viewpoint for your consideration.

In addition to the Troy-Bilt Horse rear tine tiller and other tools scaled for 1-2 acres, I have also purchased a larger farm tractor to better suit the conditions in and around my retreat. The recent letter mentioned Ford 9Ns and Farmalls. While these are still very common and many 9Ns are still in service, they are of 1940s-1950s vintage. My personal choice was a Massey Ferguson 100 series diesel tractor (135 or 165, for example). These were built between the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, and have decades of excellent service history with much information available online (for you to save on paper now).

There were several factors leading me to this decision:
I obtained the tractor from a seller on Craigslist for a bargain price. This allowed me to retain a budget for maintenance rather than blowing it all up front on a new machine. While the peripheral systems needed attention, the engine and transmission were rock solid. The Perkins Diesel engines are renowned for reliability and durability. My updates and repairs serve two purposes: Restoring the mechanical soundness of the machine and its systems, and forcing me to become familiar with the repair and upkeep now. This is a mechanical restoration only – it needs to work, not look good. Surprisingly, every part that my 40 year old tractor has needed was both in stock and relatively inexpensive. While it’s comforting to “gear up”, eventually you will have to repair what you buy. Two years after TSHTF is not the ideal time to start the learning curve on your life-sustaining equipment. An old tractor you have mechanically zero-timed before the world comes to grief will give years of reliable service, and you will have the experience of your earlier work to guide future repairs.

While a larger tractor is overkill for a few acres, it is compatible with most all the equipment on surrounding farms. 1960s and 1970s tractors will have modern 3-point hitches with the ability to add additional hydraulics. The Massey-Ferguson 165, at 53 horsepower, can run a myriad of equipment that might overtax a smaller tractor. In addition to your own needs, you will have the option of volunteering to help your neighbor prepare his field or bring in his crop, using your extra muscle and standard 3-point hookups. That would be a Grade-A trade for food, fuel, or assistance when you need it, as opposed to showing up with a shovel and asking “what can I do to help?”
A larger tractor will also turn and disk your two acres in a hurry! I have collected smaller 3 point hitch equipment, like a two-bottom moldboard turning plow and a disk harrow, very inexpensively. The equipment is old, but made of such heavy steel that it still has decades of life left in it. Another barter option is to quickly prepare ground for other small-scale neighbors that may have purchased less durable equipment. Attempting to till up hard, fallow ground, even with a rear-tine tiller, is tough on the equipment and the person. Your tractor with plow and harrow would make short work of that fallow ground, allowing the rear-tine tiller to finish much more quickly and without the mechanical abuse.

The other posts mentioned diesel-engined ATVs. I respectfully submit that this may be a case of can rather than should. While you can pull a disk or maybe even a small all-purpose plow, the machine simply does not have the tractor-like durability to stake your family’s future on using the ATV as a tractor long-term. By the time you have bought a rare diesel ATV with ATV-specific implements, you might as well have bought an older, real tractor with standard 3-point implements for the money. Remember, from a duty cycle perspective (if I may anthropomorphize), I’d want my tractor to think: “wow, that was only two acres” as opposed to the ATV thinking: “Wow, that was two acres!”
On the issue of noise, I agree that a stock machine can be heard a ways off. However, the noise can be significantly reduced by using non-standard exhausts. If your goal is to prevent advertisement of your activity, it is time well spent to install a series of mufflers which will deaden the roar of a working engine. That slight drop in horsepower might be worth the relative quiet. This is true of your rear tine tiller as well as any other equipment. As an example, I have an old Onan generator with a high volume double muffler that some guys at a muffler shop helped me rig up. I can stand right next to the thing while it’s running, and carry on a conversation with only slightly raised voices.
Thank you for your efforts, Mr. Rawles! - J.I.C.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chicken Coops and a Guide to Processing

Learned an nice tip this past weekend when building your coop: don't use chicken wire, use stucco netting. It is chicken wire, but it is 3 feet high instead of 4 feet, and one gauge smaller wire size. On a square footage basis, it is about 1/3 the cost.

I got mine at Home Depot. The stucco netting is not in same aisle as the fencing and chicken wire. You have to look for the rolls of it in the construction stuff, in the drywall aisle.

My hens have not even started laying yet, but I'm always thinking ahead.

Here is a guide to killing and bleeding the birds:

Here is a quick guide to ease the process of scalding your own birds, which makes plucking easy:

Here is a blog devoted to explaining the whole process of processing your own chickens:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Okra - the Hot Weather Veggie

Without a doubt, the okra is doing the best in the early summer heat. While the squash, cucumbers, sunflowers, and pumpkins droop in the daily furnace, nary a sign of wilt in any of the okra. Very impressive.

And to top it all off, the prettiest flowers of all! Really exotic looking.

More info on okra:

The pods should be picked or cut off while they are tender and immature, just 2 to 3 inches long. They must be picked often—at least every other day. When the stem is difficult to cut, the pod is probably too old to use. The large pods rapidly become tough and woody.

Okra seed does not keep well. Buy fresh seed each season, or save seed of non- hybrid varieties yourself by allowing a few pods on your best plant to mature. When the pods turn brown and begin to split at the seams, harvest them and shell the seeds from the pods. Dry seed thoroughly for several days, then store in a cool, dry place in tightly closed containers until next season.

Refrigerate unwashed, dry okra pods in the vegetable crisper. Wet pods will quickly mold and become slimy. Okra will keep for only two or three days.

Okra exudes a unique juice which is responsible for its thickening power in the famous Louisiana Creole gumbo dish. Aside from gumbo, okra compliments tomatoes, onions and corn, shellfish and fish stock. Okra has a subtle taste, similar to the flavor of eggplant.

Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup sliced, cooked okra)

Calories 25
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Protein 1.52 grams
Carbohydrates 5.76 grams
Vitamin A 460 IU
Vitamin C 13.04 mg
Folic acid 36.5 micrograms
Calcium 50.4 mg
Iron 0.4 mg
Potassium 256.6 mg
Magnesium 46 mg

Okra recipes

Friday, May 29, 2009

Growing Berries in Arizona

I have learned this spring one simple lesson with berries in Arizona: if you want thriving plants, water thoroughly every day.

My strawberries and bababerries were beginning to struggle in the late-spring heat being watered only every other day. I am sad to say my blueberry has not survived, probably because I watered it only a couple times a week (as it was in an odd part of the yard).

As soon as I started the daily waterings, the strawberries and bababerries perked up, stopped browning at the edges, and started growing and fruiting again. The loganberry was doing well even bi-daily, but now it is growing even faster.

I keep the strawberry in a protected space, getting less than half a day of full sun. I tried a full-sun strawberry as an experiment, but, as I suspected, it died. The bababerries and loganberry are in full sun.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Great Companions: Wheat & Peas

The winter wheat and peas I bought from Native Seed SEARCH have done really really well. I planted them in late spring, way after the guides said I should, just because I was excited and didn't want to wait 7 months.

(click on pic for larger image)

Well, somehow, despite them being winter crops, it has worked out pretty good, with the wheat now maturing on the stalk and even the peas surviving in full sun, long after all the other peas and grasses have totally burned up. The trick, without a doubt, was intensive planting, and the surprising companion relationship between the peas and wheat. Being local varieties has probably helped as well.

The wheat stalks have provided a perfect scafolding for the peas to latch on to and grow with. As well as providing some nice shade so the ground stays moist and cool.

To top it all off, this is on totally unimproved Arizona soil. I added absolutely zero fertilizer for this bed, no bonemeal, no bloodmeal, nothin'! It was just a test patch, but it has turned into a great lesson on local varieties, companions, and intensive methods. Next time I will more carefully balance the peas to wheat ratio, plant earlier, and fertilize, and I can't wait to see the results.

(click on pic for larger image)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chickens Love Beets

I read it on the internet, so of course, it had to be true! And now I can verify from experience: Chickens love beets.

They really like the leaves. More than lettuce leaves or anything else I've thrown in there, and they like the leaves even when they are young. At some point, they figured out that they also like the red root part.

It's a pretty gruesome sight after the flock gets done eating beets, with the beaks all wet and red!

Corn maturing

The corn plants are huge, and the corn is forming!

The same goes for the mom, and the baby...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to Get Rid of Bermuda Grass

Ah yes, bermuda grass, gardeners' bane, the devil's own anti-victory-garden weed.

Most often you will hear of mulching as a solution to control weeds, but ha! Bermuda grass laughs at your mulch.

Mulch keeps the soil nice and moist for it, and it just pushes right up through the mulch to the fresh air and sunshine above. Yes, mulch, it just helps your bermuda grass grow, and then makes it harder to dig out. Mulch might work if the area was already totally cleared of the bermuda grass, but if you already have no bermuda grass, you don't need this guide, now do you?

For those of us battling the evil scourge, here is how you do it, the number one best anti-bermuda grass method.

It all starts with tilling the soil. If you aren't tilling the grassy area, you are already a step behind. As an Arizona gardener, tilling is not just a way to loosen the soil, oh no, it is far more. For us, tilling is a preemptive offensive strike, the necessary first step in battling a vicious enemy!

You see, bermuda grass is like an iceberg, 9/10 of it underground. If you aren't striking at the roots, you are wasting your time. It would be like trying to cut off the top of the ice berg. Sure, you can whack the top, but more of it would immediately pop right up. Same with bermuda grass.

Shovel-loosening the earth is not good enough. Sure it will loosen the soil. The bermuda grass roots will thank you for the nice loose earth, in fact. If you only have a shovel, you absolutely must run your hands through the loose soil, inch by inch, and remove any and all bermuda roots you find.

The real trick is to shred, utterly decimate and dice, its root structure. Of course, that is just the opening salvo. It will slow it down a little bit, like Wolverine getting shot in the head, but it will come back. But shredding the roots with a deep tilling is a great start, and will set its growth cycle back for a few weeks or longer, a very nice start.

Now, your soil is rich and loose, and your favorite little seedlings are working their happy way up to the sun, stretching their cute stems and precious leaves up to the bright clear sky, when BOOM it happens. Thick, nasty, mean-looking bermuda shoots come up right next to it! You try to pluck it out, but the green part just snaps off in your fingers at ground level. Like a salamander loosing its tail, the main body of grass lies safely underground, snickering at your pathetic attempts to dislodge it. Tomorrow it is back with more shoots, brazenly asserting its dominance of your gardend space. Time, it knows, is on its slide, and it knows you dare not re-dig now, lest you kill your tender young friendly seedlings with your clumsy spade work. It is a nasty nightmare scenario faced by every Arizona victory gardener... You cuss, and sweat, and loath, and fear.... But what can you do?

Put that spade away, friend, there is a better way! For, if you have taken my good advice so far, the soil is nice and loose from your tilling. Now, it won't look like it, this is Arizona afterall, so what you see on top is probably more like hardpan, but trust in your work, friend. Under the top crust, the soil is loose. The key decision comes now. If you attempt to "weed" with the top all crusty like that, the top of the grass will just rip off from the hardpan. Instead, relax, and irrigate. Yup, that's right, just water, nice and high, let that aich too oh just pile up, and sink in nice and deep. Take a few minutes, crack a beer open, and savor your coming victory, for the moment of triumph is at hand.

Now, you can't rush it, you have to let the water sink in, and soften up the top crust back to its gently muddy and silty condition. Then, when the soil is all muddy and soft, irrigate again, covering the garden with anothe inch of water.

Then, and only then, reach down and start your weeding. Grip the grass a bit below the soil level, down where it is white not green, and shake it a little as you slowly pull it. The deeper you grab it, the better, and since the mud is so soft, you can dig your fingers in real easy a inch down if you need.

The bermuda grass, so tough and nasty beforehand, is now as pliant and gentle as a babe. It will rise up out of the mud with no effort at all, hardly even disturbing the soil. Long inches of the white roots will slide right out, and you can pat the mud right back down to fill any hole it leaves.

Your precious seedlings a mere inch away will probably not even notice. You are probably just pulling out short strands at this time, not any big root bunches, because the previous tilling shredded it up so well. If you didn't till, the big root bunches will still be intact, and their removal will disturb the soil much more. But if you previously tilled properly, the strands will come right out, smooth as silk.

It works best when you do it in standing water, not just mud. The standing water lubricates the roots as they are pulled out, letting you get real long ones. Pulling them out from soft mud without standing water will work, but not as well, as more of them will break off in the ground. Plus, the standing water keeps your hands from getting too muddy, which can be a real problem as our Arizona clay clumps up in big chunks on your hands and fingers.

Here I am digging my fingers in to get ahold of the roots:

Check out the length of that root I just pulled out:
(Click on pic for closeup)

Well, that about encapsulates my method. 1- Till, good and deep to shred the roots. 2- Irrigate. 3- Weed only in soft mud, with standing water.

Pretty simple, but pretty darn effective. Pulling the root out smoothly without breaking it will eliminate bermuda from your garden forever. Let me know if you try it, and how it works for you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wild Wheat Harvested

A lot of Arizonans do not water their lawns during the winter, when the bermuda grass goes dormant, but just for the fun of it, I started watering a few years ago.

At first, just an odd and ugly collection of weeds popped up on that barren land, which I would dutifully cut with my lawnmower, hoping I was at least helping the soil a bit with the mulch. But gradually, over a few winters, the content of the winter lawn began to change.

Wouldn't you know it, my winter lawn went from totally wild to semi-tame! The object of my love was definitely the wild yellow clover, which is so soft and sweet looking. (Let's never mind the nasty sharp seed pods it puts out in April when it dries up, for the moment...) I even harvested the clover seed this year, thinking to maybe use it in the back yard coming up, to help restore the garden soil.

All kinds of grasses, for sure, also come up in the wild front year. But this year, most spectacularly, wild wheat! For some reason, tons of it came up this year. Once I realized what it was, I stopped mowing it, and just let it grow. Next year I am going to plant this wild winter wheat like a real farmer, by gum. The grains are as big and soft as the ones in the seed packet I paid three bucks for, it is the real thing for sure.

Radish seeds

Radish seeds are cool! I did not expect them to look like little pea pods, but there they are!

The birds ate them all. Every... Last... One... Thousands of tender little seed pods cracked open, seeds devoured. I guess they were as tender and juicy as they looked. So much for saving the seeds this year. But, a great knowledge source nontheless. All in all, a really useful crop. What you don't eat in salads, you can let go to seed and feed your chickens.

Flowering Favas

The favas have responded to the cooler weather this week, and to being under a peg board for some protection from the sun. They are growing well, and putting out some nice cute little white flowers. Yes, I was crazy to plant favas in late February, but it looks like I'm getting my seeds worth! ha

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Broccoli flowers

My winter row of broccoli was an almost complete failure, producing only one broccoli plant. It is probably our favorite dinner veggie, but I just had to sit and watch it grow mouth-wateringly large, without harvesting it. It's cool though, I love watching broccoli flower.

The Secret to Arizona Gardening: High Berms

Berms and deep watering.

I just raised up and strengthened my berms this week, to help the plants cope with the extra heat. Small berms are ok for the mild spring months, when just a light soaking will keep the soil moist. But for the 90+ degree days of late spring/early summer, a deeper soaking is necessary.

With only shallow watering, the plant roots only grow shallowly, because the water never really penetrates the soil more than an inch or so. With deep watering, the soil will get moist deep down, and the roots will follow. Those deep roots will keep your plants much healthier when the real hot days hit.

So in order to get those deep waterings, you have to let the water pile up and sit for awhile, and slowly set down in where you want it to go. I recommend berm edges at least 4 inches high all around your growing area. That way you can flood your growing area with 2-3 inches of water at a time, and the water stays right where you want it.

Just be careful to watch that the water doesn't rise above the berm edge. Once the water flows over the edge, it will quickly rip a huge hole in your berm wall and all the water will escape.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Amaranth Good for Chicken Feed

I have run into a couple internet discussions that questioned the wisdom of using amaranth for chicken feed. Someone had mentioned that he found one study that questioned the use of amaranth for chickens, because of of anti-nutritional factors (tannins, trypsin inhibitors, lectins, and saponins) that can actually lead to weight loss or sickness in chickens.

However, after having researched a number of scientific papers on the subject, it seems those negative results only occurred when over-feeding amaranth, above 20% of total feed, to very young chickens. When used as a reasonable portion of a balanced mix, amaranth has been shown to have a number of beneficial effects.

For example, one study concluded:

It follows from the results of our work, that amaranth has a high nutrient value, low toxicity and makes an essential positive influence on productivity, integrity and physiological state of egg-laying hens of practically all age groups, without the increase of both cost and consumption of forages. Such effect of amaranth is exclusevely the result of normalization of metabolic processes and intensification of functional activity of basic organism systems. The positive effects, which were revealed by us, are related, on the one hand, to the high content of irreplaceable amino acids in amaranth, and on the other hand, to the unique vitamin, lipid and mineral composition of amaranth.

A second study found: The suitability of amaranth grain or green parts for animal diets has been tested in trials on rats, lambs, rabbits, ruminants, pigs and broiler chickens. In most of the trials, no negative effects on feed intake, feed conversion and live weight gains were recorded. Our results showed that amaranth can fully replacemeat-and-bone meals in the diets for broiler chickens.

A further study concluded:
High content of crude protein, favourable composition of amino acids and fibre of raw amaranth grain and high coefficients of apparent digestibilityof nutrients in a diet with 10% amaranth grain predetermine raw amaranth grain to be a suitable supplement of conventional feeds in feed mixtures for broiler chickens.

The original study above points out that even if young chickens who are overfed amarath have slight problems, full grown chickens don't have any problem with it: "results from a trial conducted during one stage of growth need not reflect the response at some other stage due to the systematic changes that took place as the bird aged. The improved performance of older birds on amaranth diets in the current study indicated that the grain might be more suitable in broiler finisher diets."

The study concluded that the anti-nutrative factors of raw grain amaranth were not significant: "Utilisation of the grain improved with age of the birds demonstrating that raw grain amaranth would be more suitable as an ingredient for broiler finisher diets. Histopathological changes of the internal organs were generally moderate and could not be attributed to the feeding of amaranth."

The positive benefits of amaranth on chicken diets have been well-established, even finding that amaranth can replace protein supplements:

Nutrient digestibility of feed mixtures with 10% crude, heat treated amaranth grain or of amaranth-free diet was studied in balance trials on male broiler chickens. Higher coefficients of nutrient digestibility (crude protein,ether extract, NDF, ADF, and gross energy) were recorded in the diet with crude amaranth grain compared to amaranth-free diet. Sensory indicators of meat of chicken broilers fed diets supplemented with 10% amaranth (crude or heat treated amaranth grain and dried biomass) were examined. Meat samples from chickens fed amaranth in the diet showed better in all sensory indicators under testing (taste,tenderness, texture, colour) compared to the diet containing fish meal.

No negative effects of diets with amaranth on the above indicators were observed. Higher content of fibre in dry amaranth exerted no effect on the studied indicators. Similarly, other studies did not find differences in live weights of broiler chickens fed diets with amaranth both heat treated and untreated, compared to the control.

Experimental groups of chickens fed amaranth containing diets gave results that were comparable in all performance characteristics with the control group fed animal protein.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


So far, most disappointingly, my amaranth crop has been a near-total failure. Out of the thousands of tiny seeds deposited in 3 rows, I have seen a grand total of 3 seedlings, only one of which surives. But boy, if I can only get one of them to thrive, they do produce seeds in abundance! I may have to order another seed packet, 'cause I do love the sight of those tall purple amaranth stalks!

I was really hoping to produce a big heap of chicken feed out of all those seeds. The nutritious leaves would be perfect for chickens and rabbits too. Here is some info on why the amaranth grain could be so useful, although not part of our traditional American gardening culture.

Amaranthus grain contains a high level of protein, between 16%-18%, much more than the cereals of the Poaceae family (grass family: wheat, barley, oats, rice, corn, etc). On the other hand the protein found in Amaranthus is one of the most balanced known and this fact alone is sufficient to consider the Amaranthus as one of the most promising plants for the nutrition of mankind.

If the ideal protein (according to the values of the FAO) is placed at 100, it is very interesting to compare the values of the most widely used proteins. The protein in Amaranthus (as well as in Quinoa) reaches a value of 75, corn reaches a value of 44, wheat a value of 60, Soya a value of 68 and cows milk a value of 72.

The protein of cereals used in the West is very poor in lysine, one of the amino acids essential for good health. Amaranthus contains twice as much lysine as wheat and 3 times as much as corn. The National Academy of Science in the USA has established that a mixture of corn flour and Amaranthus flour would give the ideal protein level of 100.

The nutritional value of Amaranthus grain is one of the essential qualities of indexing, of the evaluation and improvement of thousands of plants used by all the peoples of the planet. Thus at the NBPGR in Shimla, in India, researchers have discovered varieties of Amaranthus containing as much as 22% protein and as much as 7% lysine in the protein, although the average was 5.5%. Once again it should be stressed that this level of lysine in Amaranthus grain is essential to the diet of the Third World whose basic foodstuff is nearly always cereal.

As well as its protein, Amaranthus grain contains a lot of calcium, phosphorous, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin B.
It is this nutritional wealth which places the value of Amaranthus leaves above all other leaf vegetables. The leaves of Amaranthus are in fact an excellent source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and other trace elements. By way of comparison there are for example in the leaves of grain Amaranthus, 3 times more vitamin C, 10 times more carotene, 15 times more iron and 40 times more calcium than in tomatoes. The leaves of Amaranthus contain 3 times more vitamin C, 3 times more calcium and 3 times more niacin than spinach leaves.

Let us take for example Amaranthus palmeri, widely eaten by the Yaqui, Papago and Pima peoples of the Sonora desert in America. It contains 3 times more calories, 18 times more vitamin A, 13 times more vitamin C, 20 times more calcium and 7 times more iron than lettuce!

Amaranthus, whether grain or leaf, constitutes a veritable solar factory. It is one of the privileged plants of the planet, which use a system of photosynthesis called C4. This means of photosynthesis is particularly efficient in conditions of drought, extreme heat and great solar intensity. It allows these plants to convert twice the amount of solar energy into ‘growth’ than plants, which use the system called C3, and with the same amount of water. The productivity of Amaranthus varies considerably according to the variety, climate, richness of the soil, etc.

It can yield between 500kg and 5 tonnes a hectare. The varieties introduced into USA by the Rodale institute and other centres, such as Plainsman and K432, are said to produce on average 2 tonnes per hectare. Yields up to 6 tonnes a hectare have been achieved on certain experimental plots.

The seeds of the Amaranthus plant are incredibly tiny and so a gramme will contain 1,000 seeds and possibly as many as 3,000 seeds. It is not unusual to have magnificent panicles of more than 100,000 seeds. It has even been reported that 1 plant contained as many as 450,000 seeds. This is hardly surprising when you see a self-sown plant, unimpeded by other plants, reaching 3m in height with a width of 1m and with stems 5cm across at the nose.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beet Update!

Beets, doing well. Why am I even growing them? I have no idea. I have never eaten a beet in my life. I hope they are good. Because my beet bed is smokin!

Favas dealing with heat, and flowering broccoli

Well, the hot weather the last couple days is definitely stressing out the favas. It's cool to see them turn up their leaves in the heat of the day. So far they are doing remarkably well for what is supposed to be a winter-only crop. Not wilting, just turning up their leaves.

Other heat signs: broccoli going to flower!