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February 2005: Agricultural Notes

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The following information comes from "Fellowship among plants" by Tim Jenkins in the September/October 2004 issue of Organic NZ. This is the first of a three-part series in which the author "outlines the results of experiments in companion planting at Lincoln University's Biological Husbandry Unit":
Experiments with the traditional intercropping of corn, beans, and squash "showed that corn still yielded 90% of normal yield in this mixture, beans 20% and squash 60%, meaning that one hectare of intercrop would yield the same as around 1.7 hectares of crops on their own." The beans help fix nitrogen and climb up the corn stalks. Squash shades the soil to conserve moisture. The diversity of the three plants lowers "the potential for epidemics."
Broccoli/Lettuce: "Planted at the same time in alternating rows, the lettuce is ready faster and takes advantage of the space and other resources available before the broccoli has formed a tall canopy. This also helps reduce the potential for weeds."
Carrots/Beets/Onions: The onions help "repel plant pests such as the carrot rust fly" in its first flight and "subsequent flights are likely to have reduced problems as long as onions were present from early in the season. Beetroot provides shelter for the soil, reducing weed issues and providing habitat for beneficial insects."
Clover Understoreys: "White or red clover can be sown at the same time (or oversown once a slow-growing crop species is sufficiently established) with many horticultural and broadacre crop species such as cabbage, cereals, sweetcorn and maize."
Oats/Clover: "As heads start to form in the oats, clover oversown establishes well in the partial sunlight. After oats are harvested as forage, the clover will grow rapidly. Advantages of this system are improved clover establishment, faster turnaround to harvesting a second forage crop, nitrogen fixation by the clover, essentially replacing that used by the oats, no cultivation requirement after the oats before planting the clover, and maximising sunlight utilization during head formation and after the oats have been harvested."

From "Cold Storage of Garlic Bulbs Allows Spring Planting" in the August 2004 issue of HortIdeas:
Garlic bulbs are generally harvested in the summer, stored and then planted in the fall. However, this is not possible for all circumstances. "Researchers in Colorado have shown that spring planting of garlic is feasible. The key requirement for keeping garlic bulbs in good condition into the spring months is storage at a temperature close to 27°F. After such storage for up to nine months, when the bulbs are returned to ambient temperatures, they have the firmness and taste of freshly harvested bulbs for a period of two months or more. The bulbs should be cured normally before they are stored at 27°F."

This comes from the Summer/Fall 2004 issue of Agrarian Advocate, the newsletter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), P.O. Box 363, Davis CA 95617.
CAFF is offering Hedgerows for California Agriculture to download free from its website This 72-page resource guide is written by Sam Earnshaw and based largely on his field experience. "A hedgerow is a line or group of trees, shrubs, perennial forbs, and grass planted along field edges, fence lines, drainage channels and property borders. A hedgerow can also be installed to connect riparian or other valuable habitat areas, creating a corridor for animal movement." Earnshaw "says that farms and ranches around California are planting hedgerows as part of their overall management strategy. They provide year-round habitat to beneficial insects, control soil erosion, and enhance water retention." The manual is not yet available in hard copy.

This information comes an article on evaporative cooling from Appropriate Technology, Vol 30, No 3:
In low-cost alternatives to refrigeration for storing fruits and vegetables, "the basic principle relies on cooling by evaporation. When water evaporates it draws energy from its surroundings which produces a considerable cooling effect. Evaporative cooling occurs when air, that is not too humid, passes over a wet surface; the faster the rate of evaporation, the greater the cooling. . Generally, an evaporative cooler is made of a porous material that is fed with water." One of the examples of this type of cooler given in the article is called the Zeer, which is simply a smaller pot placed with a larger pot with sand in between. (The article doesn't specify, but we assume this is wet sand with a cloth over the top pot.) Experiments done in the Sudan found that this cooler could keep tomatoes and guavas for 20 days as opposed to 2 days without the cooler and carrots for 20 days instead of 4. The article illustrates several other low-tech coolers.

From "California's Sleeping Monster" by Deborah K. Rich in the Winter 2005 issue of onearth:
"Selenium, an element common in soils that once lay beneath ancient oceans, is harmless when left undisturbed. But changes in soil chemistry caused by agriculture can turn it into an environmental hazard. . As it enters surface water, selenium moves up the food chain with devastating effects. The most dramatic results of selenium poisoning are embryonic deformities and death among wetlands birds." In 2003 the state of California told Central Valley farmers they had to lower selenium rates in their irrigation and drainage waters or face drastic repercussions. One farmer "began to capture and recycle his drainage water, directing it to a designated area of his farm." He discovered work on phytoremediation done by a USDA researcher, and the two of them decided the farmer "should try planting canola, which absorbs soluble selenium into its roots and transfers it to its stems, leaves and seed." The canola seed is now used to produce biofuel to run the farmer's tractors. Since selenium is an important trace mineral in the diet, and "dairy cows are at particular risk of selenium deficiency," the researcher "found that feeding canola seed meal to dairy cows was another safe way to increase the selenium content of their blood."

From "Natural Fire Ant and Insect Control" by Malcolm Beck in the November 2004 issue of Acres U.S.A.:
The author's friend noticed that where he sprayed liquid separated from cow manure, fire ants disappeared. The author himself had had the same experience with cowfeed molasses. They "mixed the two together and found that it even killed a few other pests. A friend of mine who owns a chemical company suggested we add orange oil, a food-grade product pressed from orange peels." They got permission from the Texas Department of Agriculture to market the product. However, it was so successful that pesticide companies had the EPA put a stop to the sales.

From "Growing Superior Winter Squashes" in the March-May 2004 issue of Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener:
One grower asked if side stems of squashes in the field (winter squash) should be removed. Rob Johnston, Jr., chairman of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine, answered that squash plants are "pretty self-restricting. As soon as they get the amount of fruit that their photosynthetic capacity can handle, they'll stop setting fruit." So he advised against removing side shoots.

This information comes from "How to Grow Clean Celery" by Hans Schaper in the November/December 2004 issue of Organic NZ:
The author points out that "while celery is definitely one of the more difficult crops to be grown organically . it can be done very successfully." It needs "very fertile soils with good drainage . a good supply of rich compost . and plenty of water. . It is important to ensure that the seedlings never dry out." (The author raises his seedlings in his propagating house.) "When the plants are about 8 cm tall with a sturdy root system, they can be planted out with minimal disturbance." He plants his 20 cm apart. "Observe a minimum of a four-year crop rotation to avoid any buildup of diseases." He harvests his celery early to lessen the losses from septoria. "Septoria is recognized by round brown spots on the leaves. These spores can spread through the crop very quickly. It is advised to remove any diseased leaves as soon as there are any signs of the disease."

From the November-December 2004 issue of Les Quatre Saisons (the French equivalent of Organic Gardening magazine), page 25:
For storage of dry beans, put them in the freezer for 24 hours or put unpeeled garlic in each sealed container. Another article in the same issue, pages 39-41, describes an insect hotel to provide a variety of resting spots for all sorts of beneficial insects, including syrphid flies, bees, ground beetles, and lacewings. The article has good photos and directions for construction.



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