Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

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Please don't let my dreams run dry...

   We’ve been oranically certified since 1993….
   This is one song that runs right into and through me…
   All I want to do is grow cactus, and live in this beautiful, quiet, remote canyon.

 

Jason Aldean
‘Amarillo Sky’

He says
“Lord, I never complain, I never ask why…
please don’t let my dreams run dry”

On his knees every night he prays
“please let my crops and children grow…”
’cause that’s all he knows

And he takes the tractor another round….

 

Tilling time

   Timing is everything….
   The best times for roto-tilling vary on location, soil types, prospective crops, cover crops and local weather conditions…
   In this area, we get most of our rain in the winter… and the temperatures in winter are usually pretty decent.

   Most of the native forbes growth here is in the winter when the rains enable growth, and the nice temps encourage lush growth.  I like to let the winter-time native weeds and grasses grow through most of the winter. They can form a nice dense carpet of green that I can then roto-till into the soil… putting that nourishment back into the soil, while simultaneously adding a huge amount of green matter to the soil. This will in time break down into that soil-building material called humus. An abundance of humus is usually characterised by a dark soil, with excellent friability (workable, breaks apart easily, has air/water pore spaces). These same characteristics enable easy penetration by roots, and a flourishing soil micro-fauna/flora environment…. this is the true key to building soil. You need to get those little critters that are in the soil to high numbers…. they will secret enzymes that help plant growth, and further break down the natural soil particles, freeing the good minerals for the plant growth.

   Soil must not be tilled when it is too wet, nor when too dry… it is something you have to learn for your own soils…. if you really must till today for some reason, but your soil is too dry, you should have watered it a few days beforehand, tilled dry it can turn into a powder that repels water, and when still dry can easily blow away. If it is too wet, you will beat it into a mass much as a potter expels air from clay.

   Treat your soil right…. if you don’t, you’ll lose harvest.  Your soil will also be harder to work… weeds will be harder to pul out….. and you’ll have more hard or powdery patches where nothing good will grow.

 

  This is one of our terraces…. it has not been tilled for nearly a year… and the native nettles (a really excellent green food source full of minerals) have grown pretty rampant at this end…. the other end of the terrace has more shade, and the chickweed (another wild edible green) have grown heavily at that end.  This is a good stage to till them into the ground… they have not yet set seed, but are just now starting to open flowers… so the top growth has nearly as much nutrients as it will ever carry, and it is still no risk at all of having viable seeds that will mean a quick resprout.

Continue reading Tilling time

Do I ‘Clean Cultivate’, or ‘Mulch’, or ‘Let It All Grow to Hell?’

    There are many schools of thought when it comes to agriculture….. and since it is one of the oldest professions with a history of some ten thousand years, you can be that almost every option has been tried at some time or another. 

   Oddly, in that ten thousand years, some of the greatest advances in ag have come about in the last few hundred years… the advent of the ‘Green Revolution’ was greatly heralded in the sixties. Yield-per-acre has been increased due to new varieties, new advances in technology and equipment…. and (I hate to say it as an organic grower) new advances in chemicals.   Sometimes philosophy and practicality rub shoulders, and sometimes they seem diametrically opposed…. but sometimes that latter is influenced by your preconceived notions and biases.

   “When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change”

Wayne Dyer

   So much of human thought is stuck in ruts…. agriculturalists are perhaps better at being in ruts than other people…. something that’s been done ‘such-and-such-a-way’ for thousands of years is hard to want to change. If a change can mean no food production, it makes one loath to commit full resources to change. It’s probably not by accident that most farmers and ranchers are conservative in thought process… even the organic ones. In fact, it is not a bit of a surprise that organic growers are conservative, they are carrying on traditions rooted in thousands of years of hard-won experience. Even when they abandon the synthetic farming of their parents, they are embracing the organic methods of their great-grandparents.

   Still, even organic growers that were raised on synthetics and went organic are going to have some pre-set biases that might require years of ‘working through’ to accept…

   Here’s my lay-down on the three main systems of ‘weed management/Ground Cover Issues’

   Clean Cultivation

   For much of the last few centuries the most common method of weed-cultivation was called ‘clean cultivation’.  This is nothing more than making sure there are no plants growing in the area other than the desired crop plant.  This method used to be accomplished by flame-weeding, or hand weeding with hoes or by hand, and sometimes with grazing animals such as fowl. With the advent of chemical herbicides these tasks were accomplished with much less labor, and the amount of land a farmer could manage increased.  But clean cultivation has many drawbacks. It is much more susceptible to soil erosion by both wind and rain. It can lead to dirty produce as raindrops and overhead irrigation might splash dirt upon the crop. And if a grower wishes to be organic, they are pretty-much relegated to hand or flame cultivation if they wish to have clean ground.

clean cultivation in a cactus patch

 

 

clean cultivation in a cactus patch

  Organic Mulch

   For growers wishing to be organic, an organic mulch is often recommended.  Such was our choice for a few decades.  Four inches of oak-leaf mulch on our soil makes the ground below moist several months into the dry season due to it’s shading effect. It also keeps most weeds from growing well…. most seeds below a thick mulch will be unable to grow through it. Most weed seeds that fall onto the surface will not grow a healthy root through four inches of packed mulch… those that do are VERY easy to pull up when you see they are growing.  An organic mulch is also great for the soil and the microbial population due to the decomposition that occurs.  The mulch will slowly break down over several years…. after a few years the layers nearest the soil will be very dark and starting to turn into humus. The actual process of creating humus can take decades….. we have had our humus levels tested at nearly 14% in some areas. This is due to the tons of ground trees we used to bring in as mulch material.  Just as there are drawbacks to clean-cultivation, so to with mulch inputs…. these thoughts operate on two levels… practical and philosophical. The practical thought process goes that one never really knows what substances were on the trees that produced the leaves…. so bringing them onto an organic farm is a bit of a risk. I can understand this train of thought and it is the main reason we have brought no mulch in now for three years. The philosophical argument says that since the world is a closed-loop, so too should each farm be. Each farm should use frequent ‘fallow-crop’ intervals such that the soil is constantly regenerating itself and replacing the nutrients lost due to harvest. This is a bit of a fatuous argument however… because while the earth is a closed-loop system, any particular portion of it is usually losing part of itself, or gaining something from somewhere else due to the usual ups-and-downs of the earth and all the associated system therein. And no farm should be seen as an entirely closed loop since you are continually (hopefully) selling your crop. Those nutrients sent out do need to be replaced….. but MUST it be solely from outside inputs?

Nopal with a chipped wood mulch

 

 

Nopal with a chipped wood mulch

 Living Mulch

  This brings us to the third system of weed management, the one that was probably pretty much in heavy use until a few-hundred years ago… that of a living mulch of plants.  This system works quite well under many plants that have some vertical space under the leaves, for instance an orchard. In this system a native or a planted crop will be grown between the rows of your cash crop, or perhaps underneath the very leaves of your cash crop. A field of corn might be planted also with a clover, the two plants will grow together, the clover able to survive under the corn leaves, covering the soil, and after the corn is harvested, the clover will die over the winter. Any corn material that returns to the soil will accompany the many pounds-per-acre of nitrogen the clover will give the soil, not to mention the extra bio-mass which will largely decompose into the soil, increasing that ever-precious humus level.  There are disadvantages with this system also… and they also split along both philosophical and practical concerns. The philosophical side accepts the age-old wisdom of ‘enterprise’ and ‘labor’….  having ‘weeds’ growing in your fields is a sign of sloth…. ‘weeds’ are often accused of ‘stealing’ both moisture and nutrients from the cash crop. They can act as a shelter for bad bugs, and they can act as a bridge or ladder for ants or other pests to easily access the structure of your plants.  All of these accusations are valid to various degrees, but they can also be ameliorated to some degree by some small planning and effort.  And this will ALL depend on your own circumstances. 

seasonal living-mulch cultivation in a cactus patch, pre mowing

   This is Opuntia robusta, two year-old plants growing in the native grasses in California.
   This is at the beginning of the dry season, the annual grasses have all died.

seasonal living-mulch, after mowing @ beginning of dry season

   This is the same area after mowing. You can see the cut-down native grasses do a good job of shading the soil.
   The soil is also greatly protected from erosion…. and the grasses will eventually rot into the soil.

    For us for instance, the native grasses are allowed to grow between the large cactus plants.  They will take advantage of the winter rains just as in nature. Over the winter they will actually keep the soil from being too wet which would injure the cactus. Once springtime comes and the grasses set seed I mow between the rows, and use a weak weed wacker between the plants (a weak one so it won’t cut through the plants if I accidentally touch them).  The grasses will form a straw mulch over the ground, shading it and eventually decomposing into the soil the same way an imported mulch would have done.  So in this way I have put our own home-grown mulch onto the ground without having to bring in material from off the farm like before. I used to think I saved  a lot of time bringing in mulch… my thinking was each hour of mulching saved three hours of weeding, and put humus into the soil… well now, I don’t bother bringing in material, it grows in-situ and merely needs to be mowed down. This is a lot less labor than I had before.  One downside is that in the springtime, I have a lot of little spiky grass seeds in the cactus areas… these get caught in your clothes. But seriously, in the three years or so we’ve been doing these large plants that way, we’ve had no downside other than the stickers in the grass.

   For the small plants we still do a clean cultivation. The plants are very low to the ground, and we don’t want anything growing that will overwhelm the small plants. So in that instance, I’d prefer to have mulch. I may start collecting it from beneath our trees. For the short-lived perennials, one good thick mulching will last for a few years. 

That which you cannot change,
you must bear with

Mexican Proverb

 

   Someone asked me recently whether having to stop bringing in mulches to comply with the new Federal Organic Laws was a problem for us. My reply is this article…. so often in life we have to make adjustments based upon expectations of others.  When these things happen all we can do is find the best option to allow us to continue. Sometimes we are caught in ‘The Traditional Way’ to do things, other times we are hampered by a need for the approval of others…. for us, the hardest thing is getting used to ‘letting weeds grow’… but oddly, I’ve found that this method is actually very well suited to our large cactus plants. They grow just fine this way, and we don’t have to work hard driving a large truck into town to pick up mulch and bring it back, so our fuel costs are lowered (I only put 400 miles on the big truck last year).  So perhaps all-in-all, this will probably turn out to be a good thing.

   A closed mind can keep you from new opportunities,
yet you don’t want your mind so open that it falls out when you tie your shoes.

Hoeing Weeds

Hoeing weeds

Fast weed growth
Fast weed growth

 

   After some five or six months with no rain, we got a two day gully-washer
that dropped some five to six inches on the area.
This was the largest October storm system to hit the state in 45 years.

   The combination of warm temperatures and moisture has led
to an explosive growth of weeds.
The photo above was taken only five days after the rain started. Very fast sprouting!

 

   Keep in mind, when I say ‘Weed’, I merely mean a plant that is growing where I do not want it.
   These plants in the photos are right in front of our house where we want nothing growing so that we have no flammable vegetation near the house. We’re better off having the ground bare and clear all around the house to lower wildfire risks.
   We could have a lawn there, but that takes a lot of water, water I’d rather use to grow food, both to sell and to eat.

   The plants in the photo are the types that need to be growing on the hillsides where they can help to bind the soil reducing erosion.

   It is when plants are in this young and tender stage that they are the easiest to kill. A simple swipe with a hoe will scrape them from the soil surface, slicing them from their roots and leaving the leaves to dry in the sun. A nice day that will be sunny is said to be the best to scrape these weeds from the ground. The sun will hasten their demise. A rainy day might allow them to get their roots going again.

   If you let the weeds grow, they will set their roots firmly in the ground, and you will have a harder time removing them, if scraped with a hoe, the roots might set up a new stalk…. you might have to pull them from the ground by hand.

   Take care of your weeds before they get out of hand.

   “A stitch in time saves nine” Old Proverb

 

deer path weeds

deer path weeds

This is a deerpath in the wilderness, the photos taken the same day as the one above.
We can see that even though the plants are different, they have the same germination speed, although perhaps a lower rate of germination due to the rougher soil.

   There are several factors we can learn form in the two photos….
Notice the deerpath has a lot of debris on it… leaves and duff from the nearby bushes.
These have lowered the germination rate.. perhaps some weeds were under a large leaf that did not allow the small sprout to grow properly.

 

When you hunt an animal you have to learn its habits….
when you have weeds, you should learn how to control them
by knowing their growth habits, and vulnerabilities.

   A seed is a marvel of life…
it has the accumulated nutrition and energy given to it by its parent for its early life…..Just as most humans and animals will do anything for their young, so too did the parents of these annual weeds sacrifice themselves for their progeny.
   The parents of these annual weeds grew during the moist winter in our mild climate… they waxed through the winter. And when the springtime came and the rains stopped, the plants, programmed to seed at the beginning of the dry season, took every bit of energy they had in their roots, stalk and leaves and packed every bit of this essence and energy into the seeds they carried. This is why seeds are so nutritious.  Every bit of fat, protein and carbohydrate the plant can manufacture is given to the seeds, so that they will have a good chance to grow in the next generation.

   So now we are left with a seed that has lain in the ground for five or six months,  waiting for the right environmental conditions to sprout.
   Plants are grown and adapted to their area….. the plants here ‘know’ they should not sprout before the rainy season has began. In order to make sure that a stream of urine from a passing deer or a short unseasoable sprinkling in July will not cause them to sprout, the seeds are coated with a hard ’seedcoat’ that will keep out short-term moisture.
   When it has rained for a couple of days the moisture will seep into the seed itself.
This will start the seed’s germination. To germinate too soon would mean death for the seedling,  nature sets these effects in place to ensure enough plants grow to continue the process.

   It is when they are newly growing that they are easiest to destroy…. if you have a space in which you don’t want any new plants growing,  this is the time to take care of them,  when they are young tender seedlings that have no large root system,  nor copious leaves to cause interference.

~Lao Tzu~
Chapter 63

Accomplish the hard task while it is still easy.
Handle large affairs while they are still small.
For even the most difficult and large of tasks and affairs
have a point where they are still easy and small

Hoeing weeds

Here we see a photo of a large hoe being used to scrape the newly-grown weeds.

 

   What means you use to destroy these young seedlings depends on your resources.
One method used for nearly a century is ‘flame-weeding’.
Some tractors are adapted with systems that shoot a flame
onto the ground beneath the crop plants.
Just a second of heat from the flame will cause the moisture in the small leaves to boil,
rupturing cells and resulting in dessication and eventual death.
You can also purchase hand held flamers that will run from a small propane bottle.

   I prefer using mechanical means….
if the ground is not covered with a mulch,
I use a hoe, gently scraping along the soil surface,
scraping the plants from the ground.
This does not require hacking if the plants are young enough….
gently scrape the plants from the ground in a space a foot or so…
then push the scraped soil back to cover the ground.
This results in what the old-timers used to call a ‘dust mulch’.
The broken soil will reduce the wicking action of the soil surface
and act much as a mulch of leaves would…
covering the soil with a blanket of soil shading it from the sun etc.

    If you have a mulch of leaves, straw or some other organic material, you can use a rake and be able to kill the weeds trying to grow on top of the mulch.
    These are the weed seeds brought onto the mulch by wind or animals.
If left unchallenged, they might possible be able to grow through the mulch and enjoy the same healthy conditions you desire for your crops plants.  

 

weeds scraped from the ground

weeds scraped from the ground

Here we see the ground scraped across the entire photo.  
The left-hand side is scraped, and the right-hand side is scraped
and the removed soil put back onto the soil as a mulch.

 

   It is generally seen as better for the environment overall to keep the soil covered with plants.
    Plants cover the soil keeping the nearby areas cooler. Bare open ground tends to be hotter, and much more susceptible to erosion by rain or wind. Here in the summertime we often see ‘dust-devils’ on open fields, and even on our own clean scraped driveway. 

 

~Lao Tzu~
‘Chapter 48′

Common learning consists in doing something new each day,
In pursuit of the Tao, every day something is dropped.
Day after day something else is not done,
until one reaches the point where one is able to do much by doing nothing.

Less and less you work and desire, until you reach the state of non-action.
By not striving to control the world, it offers itself to you.
You cannot master the world by trying to enforce change on it.

 

    Unless there is an overwhelming need for clean-cultivation, I argue against it. We remove all vegetation from near our house because of the high fire danger in our area. We want no organic materials next to the house. Clean and open rocky ground is what I want… the small pebbles are unlikely to blow away with the wind.  We also have some garden area that is clean-cultivated. Some of our cactus species are small, and would be overtaken by allowing other species to grow with them.

 

   Most annual gardens do well with clean cultivation… before you plant, prepare the soil in the usual way…and then water as if you had planted… in a few days you will see weed seedlings sprout… rake the soil to kill the emerging seedlings, and water again. Within the next two weeks, water and rake four or five times…. you will kill most of the weed seeds near the surface…. then when you plant, do not dig the soil again, you will bring up seeds from deeper…. just make your tiny seed plantings, and cover them…. hopefully you’ll have very few weeds growing when your vegetables emerge.

    It is hard for many people to not do all the work at once… but there are times it pays to do less now… and take much longer, doing a little bit here and there… don’t rush nature, she usually doesn’t rush much… and you can’t push her hard.

 

 

“When you throw Mother Nature out the window,
She comes back in the door with a pitchfork”

~Masanobu Fukuoka~

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water management for the semi-rural property

  There’s all kinds of different needs for water around the world.  What we take for granted in the USA is something of a rarity when you look the world over.  A friend of mine from Mexico told me that in his village the cheaper houses are at the tops of the hills…. there is no water there, and the people must tote it from the bottom to the top to use. The people who can afford it are at the bottom where the springs and fountains are, they don’t have to carry their water as far to their house. No one in his village had running water indoors when he was young. And they all had hard packed clay floors.

   Due to our level of hydrology management, system of government, and relatively abundant water resources we have relatively cheap water in this country. This has caused us to be a bit wasteful and overindulgent.  So the first thing to do when contemplating your outdoor water needs is to determine how much water you actually do need. A large water-intensive lawn might be the wrong thing to have in most of Southern California… better on many levels is the large garden with plants from the ‘Mediterranean Climate’ areas of the world. Similarly, in most other areas it would probably be a good idea to use plants adapted to the local climate. This in itself will mean you don’t have to ‘baby’ the plants as much.

   Group all plants of similar water needs near each other. This will mean any mechanical means of water-distribution can be handled easily and efficiently on one line of pipe. They can then be on the same watering schedule. 

   You will also have to have water for any livestock you may have.  Cattle and horses and all other animals and fowl take a lot of water, and you want pipes they will not accidentally knock over and break, yet you want them close enough to the pens and yards so that it will be easy for you to care for the animals well.

   A garden should have its own pipe to it always under pressure, from there you may want several standpipes with hose bibs and garden hoses for easy watering of different crops in different seasons.

   Make sure that the areas you plant are in the appropriate conditions that suit those plants…. even though we get little frost, I have difficulty with broad-leaf tropicals such as ‘Elephants ear’ since they take so much water in the summer. If I cared to water them a lot, they’d grow, but I don’t want to coddle plants that are not well suited for this warm dry climate.

   Once you have your planting and distribution areas determined, you work from the individual sprinklers upstream… figure what kind of flow you will want, and what your water pressure will be…. this will give you the size of pipe you will need…. there are a series of formulas in this all….. and the flow of water and other fluids through pipes is an interesting science (hydrology). There are issues such as friction from the inner walls to consider, so the larger the pipe the less this causes issues…. yet if you go past a certain amount you waste money on pipe that is large but does no better for those emitters than a size or two below that (the law of diminishing returns). So the formulas and theory of this should be researched…. They say “if you can’t explain it to your granny so she understands it, you don’t really know it that well”…. and “if you want good info go to the master of the trade”… in this I elect a fellow named Jess Stryker. Jess Stryker’s pages on sprinkler design are very good.. I use his formulas for my own work.

   I’d also recommend rural people locate their storage tank high on a hill if possible, this will give you a stable water pressure, and water even when the power is out. Without such a system, you’d need a generator for water if the power goes out.  With our two tanks on the hill, we have water for a week or two if I don’t water plants.

   When you are considering the initial sprinklers or other water-emitting-devices, you have to consider the root characteristics of the plants you grow. The flow rate of those devices and their numbers will determine the sizes of pipe you will need. In general, you should use the most efficient water emitting devices you can… but there are difficulties and limitations with each kind.

   Sprinklers of any type can be hard to adjust to odd-shaped areas.  Sprinklers can also have much of the water lost during sprinkling due to wind… and some plants can become more susceptible to mildews due to the leaf moisture. For most plants, drip systems can work better. They can be supremely adaptable, and easy to change to fit different plants that you move in or out.  They emit a constant drip or tiny stream of water onto one spot, it can then soak deep into the soil… this can usually help greatly in reducing water usage.  Deep watering can encourage deep roots, and those deep roots will be nice and cool on hot days… the deep water in the soil will be shielded from evaporation by the layer of topsoil over it. Since the water is more ‘targeted’, it is not used on areas that don’t have landscape or garden plants… those areas might be less likely to grow rank with weeds due to not getting watered as they do by the ‘overspray’ or ‘drift’ from conventional sprinklers. All-in-all, drip systems work well for most people.

   Again, knowing your plants is important. Cactus is in general a lot different from other plants…. you’d think they’d have a big taproot, but they instead tend to have a lot of roots spreading out like the spokes of a wheel. They run only a few inches under the ground… they are designed to catch up the quick two hour rain storms many parts of the desert have.  When the ground gets wet a few  inches deep, then the storm ends, the sun comes out and bakes the ground again….  plants with roots just below the surface will be taking in water for the few days before the ground has fully dried. For this reason we use sprinklers…. but for efficiency, we use micro sprinklers… they are tiny little sprinklers that spray some twenty feet across and are fed by 1/4 tubing to the 1/2 inch tube that is hooked to hose bibs.

   So the very first thing is to consider the needs you will have for water, and design from that point all the way to the water source which is your well, tank or water hook-up.

Cactus Watering Time

Cactus Watering

 

 

Cactus Watering

We use the small ‘micro-sprinklers’ for most of our irrigation on the cactus.
Cactus is drought-tolerant, but the plants prefer to have regular watering.
There’s a big difference between being tolerant of something, and flourishing.
We do want production, and we want our leaves to be the very best in taste and texture,
so we water to keep the plants and leaves at a high level of quality.

It makes the plants happier to be regularly cared for.

 

We also have a larger water system,
but we rarely use it as it is not as efficient with water use as the micro sprinklers.
We use the big sprinklers when frost threatens the leaves,
the relatively warm water from the ground @64 degrees
 will keep the leaves from sustaining too much damage from the cold…..
as long as I am sure to wake up and monitor the system, LOL.

Small World, the importance of Soil Microbes

   Imagine if you will, having been shrunk down to a microscopic size. Smaller than an amoeba, but larger than a bacteria. You live in the ground, in this microscopic world of one celled and larger creatures, some of them living in the film of moisture around the soil particles. As you roam around, knee deep in this water layer around a large grainy sand particle you see in the water film a multitude of animals and algae floating around in the tiny currents in this small world of water. Some of these small microscopic creatures are animals, catching the algae and bacteria and eating them. Some of these small bacteria are eating on algae, and also the dead bodies of the animals that live in this film of water clinging by static action to the sand grain.

    You however are large enough to leave this film of water and venture to another particle nearby. This one is up against the sand grain, it is a particle of compost. This particular piece is so decomposed that it is not possible to distinguish what it once was. But now it is a piece of compost, decomposed plant of animal matter, it is a fluffy segment larger than the sand particle. As you get closer to it you see that is so open and porous, it many cavities and cracks are full of tiny organisms, some the same as were around the sand, and some are different. This piece also has water in and around it, but since it is so porous it is full of water much like a sponge would be. Its’ many cracks and fissures are full of water, in fact this piece of detritus is carrying more water than its’ own weight. And in all this water and organic matter there is a veritable colony of organisms at work, digesting the organic compounds of the compost, as they work at it their own waste product is released into the water in the particle.

    There are some creatures that have the ability to convert naturally occurring compounds and chemicals into food for themselves. They do this by directly eating the naturally occurring compounds, and sometime they secrete enzymes that help them break the compounds down for digesting. These creatures are called ‘autotrophs’. The rest are generically referred to as ‘heterotrophs’, they dine on the autotrophs, or their waste products. These are basically the plants and animals of this microscopic world. On them the rest of life depends, because these creatures form the base of the food pyramid. With them the decomposition of all organic materials begins. And in turn, the renewal of all energy given to us by the sun. Also from the recycling of organic compounds, chemicals, and other materials that is constantly being renewed into new life in a large cycle known as ‘The Cycle of Life’.

    Going around to the other side of this spongy mass teeming with microscopic life you see a large root near the organic matter. This root is actually a very small feeder root, but as it is larger even than the sand particle or the compost it seems overly large in this tiny world. The root is inhabited by a multitude of small fungi called mycorrhizae that live in conjunction with the root in a process called symbiosis. This means that each depends on the other for help, and each releases something that is a waste product to them but useful to the other. In this way they help each other out without any harm to themselves. The bacteria in this case are releasing a substance that is a food for the root, the root is giving up sugars that the mycorrhizae and other little creatures depend upon. Each exchange on this sub-atomic level is a chemical exchange that involves swapping of one atomic neutron for another. This tiny change signifies a chemical change in itself, and helps both life forms grow.

    Much of this chemical exchange is a result of positive for negative electron swapping, and happens only in the presence of sufficient water to carry the electrical charge across the gap between soil and root. In this same way water (hydrogen) is carried into the roots and transported through the plant.

    The ground near you rumbles and heaves, suddenly the head of an earthworm moves into view, squeezing its’ way between the soil particles, and swallowing the bits of organic debris which have made their way down into this soil from the surface, or left over bits of rotted roots from dead plants. As it moves the worm makes a small tunnel which will serve as a passage way for tiny creatures, air and water. It will also serve as a handy highway for the plant roots to move through the soil quickly and easily. This traveling composter leaves a trail of castings in the tunnels it creates. These castings are a nutrient rich source of food for many of the micro-composters such as bacteria which colonize these bits of organic debris. These little critters do like the fact that organic material such as this has been pre-digested by a higher animal, it makes the job of reducing it much easier for them once it is already shredded, and half broken down increasing its’ surface area. As the plant roots invade the tunnels they take up the rich nutrients from both the castings and the colonizers in it.

    This tiny land is so full of algae, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi and mites that a single shovel full can contain over one thousand separate species, and each gram of rich soil can have millions of individuals. In fact the amount of bio-mass in the soil is so very high that there is generally (in a fertile no-polluted soil) a larger weight of mass than on the soil surface. For instance an acre of soil might contain 130 pounds each of Algae and protozoa, 890 lbs. of insects, nearly 900 pounds of earthworms and about 2,000 pounds each of bacteria and fungi. One can see on this small level that the soil is like a jungle with it’s scavengers feasting on the dead bodies of every creature in the ground, as well as the detritus from above the soil line. There are predators that catch their prey with sticky pads, and others that ensnare unwitting victims in microscopic lassos of tiny filaments. It is a bacteria eat virus world, and it all goes on continually in the ground beneath our feet. It is influenced by outside weather, too much cold or heat can affect the balance of populations in this small soil world. Too little or too much water, or the acidity level of the soil can initiate large scale die-offs, and this can in turn be influenced by soil temperature alone. So it is easy to see how small things people do to the soil can influence how the soil behaves. Turning the soil when it is too wet can compact the soil, causing the air spaces between soil particles to become packed together, this will reduce the airflow, and also the soil moisture between particles to become reduced. This in turn will influence the movement of water and air through the soil. PH and microbial action will be impacted, resulting in the potential for a ‘sour’ (highly acidic) soil. Such a soil might take a year of careful attention to correct this imbalance.

Controlling Hearts and Minds

    I took a lot of  ’AgriBusiness’ classes in school. They tried to impress on us the importance of ‘economy of scale’. “Become a giant farm, have specialists for everything, and ‘mine’ the soil for all the nutrients you can, bring in all the inputs that allow you to grow the foods you need, use the pesticides so the produce will be blemish-free and appealing to the consumer.”  Then I went overseas and spent some time in Third-World countries, eating the fresh local produce…. I remember being at a market in Morocco and seeing scabbed oranges for sale…. I thought to myself how these would never sell in the USA and we were so lucky to have such great produce in the States. But when I peeled the rind away, the orange was as nice as any I’d seen, and the taste was better than oranges I recalled in the USA. That was the beginning of a desire in me to produce organically.  It is the taste of the food, the nutrition, and the food safety in it that really counts.

   But organic methods don’t work so well on the large scale of a huge agribusiness with its economy of scale. An organic operation must have patches of unworked land with bugs in them, and a variety of foods grown, not the large scale ‘monoculture’ that makes for such economy in the case of a large farm.  Yet the small scale of the standard small family organic farm means those people lose the economy of scale that a large operation has. For instance, marketing and compliance with food safety regulations can both be done more efficiently with a large farm.

   We are going through hoops right now with the local regional Water Quality Control Board  who want to do monthly testing of our well water. They say the costs will be ‘insignificant’. But over one thousand dollars yearly is not insignificant to us.  It means we must reduce some other costs that we can control, something like marketing.. which might reduce our sales. 

   While I understand the issues related to food safety, I also would like to see this country become less one of huge corporate mega-farms, and more of a hodge-podge of small family farmers, each selling locally or shipping on a limited basis some unique vegetable that cannot be grown efficiently in other places.

   North Carolina is a place I have some family, so when I see NC articles, they jump out at me. One such recently was about the Feds starting to examine small farms in NC.  The small-scale growers there are concerned that the proposed new regulations will drive them out of business.  I understand their concerns. But I have a prediction…. our government and people tend to move in cycles…. fear becomes hysteria, and then rules and changes out of all proportion to the threat are soon enacted … then years later cooler heads prevail, and things ratchet down some. Still, once you give the government the reins, they tend to keep tight fingers on them and never relinquish power.

   There’s a movement afoot to build small farms in the inner cities. Some propose bulldozing entire near-empty blocks and replacing them with farms to provide healthy nutritious foods for the local people. There will also need to be farm managers for these places, and many workers. I expect the federal government will give a large amount of assistance to these enterprises, and non-profits will be rushing to fill the spots, for which the government will pay them (we’re working with non-profits regarding our water testing, but still they charge, and everyone in the line there is making money, non-profit does NOT mean free).  These groups will be getting funds and assistance to meet their payroll and goals… but it seems that rural dwellers will still remain paying on their own…. but we’re used to being ignored by the government, except when they want to get their fees and revenue and now code-enforcement money.

   Believe me, the only thing the Federal Government can do is protect the country from invasion and fight wars, it is the only thing that is large enough to do that.  But pretty-much, that is the only thing the Feds should be doing… it is too large and unwieldy an organism to be able to see the small.  And so I expect it will in general wipe out small farms…. except for the ones that are willing to go ‘hat in hand’ and let the government take over their operation, and run it as a non-profit. In this way, the government will control the food supply.  Control their food, you control their hearts and minds.

 

Chapter 17

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Second best is a leader who is loved.
Next, is one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.
Such as these have no faith in their people,
and the people in turn become unfaithful to them.
The Master doesn’t talk; he acts.
How sparing he is with his words!
When his work is complete and the purpose is achieved,
the people regard the triumph as their own.

 

 

Chapter 22

Yield, and maintain integrity.
If you want to become whole; let yourself become partial.
If you want to become straight; let yourself become crooked.
If you want to become full; let yourself become empty.
If you want to be reborn; you must let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything; you must give everything up.
The sage accepts the world as the world accepts the Way.
He is free from self-display; and therefore he shines.
Freed from self-assertion; he is distinguished.
Removed from self-boasting; his merit is acknowledged.
removed from self-complacency; he acquires superiority.
It is because he is free from striving that
no one in the world is able to strive with him.
When the ancient Masters said,
“If you want to be given everything, give everything up,”
they weren’t mouthing empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly complete.

 

Chapter 44

Fame or integrity, which do you hold most dear?
Your wealth or your life, to which will you cling?
Gain or loss, which one increases your anxiety?
In fame and wealth and gain can be found the seeds of failure,
And in integrity and life and loss can be found the root of treasures.
Thus it is that a contented person is never ashamed of what they have,
Having self-restraint he can avoid trouble,
In this way he can endure long, and live contentedly.

 

Chapter 53

If I possess even the smallest bits of wisdom,
I would walk the great way, and my only fear would be in straying from this great road.
The great way is wide and the going is easy, but how people seem to prefer the side paths.
When the offices of government, the palaces and temples are richly adorned, and lavishly outfitted…
when the ministers are concerned chiefly with pomp and display;
the fields will be dusty and overgrown with rank weeds, and the granaries of the land will be bare.
The gentry wear elaborate richly embroidered clothes,
eat and drink in excess with their sharp swords at their sides,
these are surely the robber barons. This is not in keeping with the Way.

 

Chapter 57

 
Rule the kingdom with justice. Use surprise tactics to fight a war.
But it takes letting go to win and hold the world.
How do I know it is so? Through this: -
The more restrictive the laws in the kingdom, the poorer the people will be.
The more sharp weapons the people have, the more troubled and chaotic the state will be
and the less secure the people will be.
The more clever and advanced the people, the stranger the contrivances they will invent.
Law after law promulgates robbers and thieves.
Therefore the Master says: “I will let go of the law,
and the people will act rightly of their own accord,
I will love tranquility and the people will act with righteousness.”
“I will make no effort, and the people will prosper.
I will let go of all of my desires, and the people will return to native simplicity.”

 

 

 

Chapter 58

When a government is unobtrusive and tolerant the people will be happy and prosperous;
when a government is suspicious and strict the people are dissatisfied and crafty.
Good fortune is linked to calamity; misery is tied to happiness.
So who can tell when the end of this will come?
Is there no measuring-stick for the norm?
What is seen now as right and true will certainly someday be seen as wrong and false.
The people have labored under this sea of vexations for a long time.
Therefore the Master is square without sharp cutting corners.
His straightness is not strained; he is pointed without being piercing.
And he is bright but not blinding.

 

Chapter 72

When the people have no more fear of oppression; that is when oppressive forces will overtake them.
Do not restrict the people in their dwellings.
Do not oppress the people with heavy taxes and burdens.
If you do not wear the people out, they will not weary of you.
Therefore it is that sages know themselves well, but this self-knowledge is not displayed for all to see.
The sage respects himself, but does not try to become admired.
He will choose self-knowledge and love, and set conceit and opinion aside.

 

Chapter 75

When the nation is in want of food,
it can be seen that the government officials are eating too much of the grain in excessive taxes.
And why are the people restive and hard to govern?
They are in a state of near rebellion due to the intrusive machinations of the government.
The people learn to make light of death when they strive to obtain goods and extravagant items.
They are relentlessly working to acquire more, and look to death as a release from pursuit of material gain.
In this wise it is easy to not place too high a price on life.

 

Chapter 76

At birth a person is soft and supple; at their deaths they are firm and strong.
All creatures, plants and trees are born tender and flexible,
when they are dead they become brittle and dried.
Thus it is that people who are stiff and hard are companions of death.
The soft and yielding are the followers of life.
It can be seen that a great inflexible army will fall under it’s own weight,
just as a stiff unyielding tree will break in the wind.
Dwelling in an inflexible unyielding manner will bring downfall.
The pliant and supple will survive.

 

 

Chapter 77

 

The way of nature is much like the drawing of a bow.
That which is high is lowered, and that which is low is brought up.
The excess is removed, and where there is deficiency more is added.
The way of nature is to reduce the excesses and spread them to where there is deficiency.
The way of the world is otherwise, Mans way is to take from those who have little,
and give to those who have much.
Who is it that can offer more to the world, and have still more to offer? Only the person of the Tao.
Therefore the sage acts without laying claim to the act.
He can accomplish without boasting.
He has no wish to appear superior.

 

Chapter 81

Truth is not spoken with rhetoric;
rhetoric does not embrace truth.
The good do not quarrel; those who quarrel are not good.
Those who know are not widely learned, those who are widely learned do not know.
The sage does not hoard for himself. The more he does to help others, the more he can do.
The more he gives to others the more his own treasures increase.
The way of Heaven is to cause benefit, not harm.
Therefore the sage observes this and imitates it.
He acts, serves, and does without relentless striving.

 

 

 

The End of Rivenrock? Will the tin soldier ride away?

The Law in its majestic equality,
forbids rich as well as poor to sleep under bridges,
to beg in the streets,
and to steal bread

~Anatole France~

   Since 1993 we’ve been an organically certified small farm in California. I had a job with a contractor which paid our household expenses and kept us solvent even when the farm sales were less than our farm expenses. But two years ago when the factory in town closed down, and most of us were laid off, I decided to go into the cactus growing more full time.  We grow a unique vegetable which we’ve shipped throughout the country.  Initially we shipped the cactus leaves as nursery stock, then governmental regulations tightened and we became more aware of the laws and regulations of shipping nursery stock into other states.  So we switched to shipping the younger leaves for people to eat themselves as produce. Our goal has been to ship to Health Food Stores, and restaurants as well as individuals who might be interested in the leaves we grow. Through the years our customer list grew slowly but steadily at a steady 30% rate. As the years progressed the governmental regulations seemed to grow more onerous… and the last year we’ve lost many of our older customers due to the recession. Other businesses have quit, some people seem to have stopped their regular orders. Yet, due to aggressive marketing, our sales this year are the highest we’ve ever had due to many new customers. Yet this was done at the expense of any profit we might have had.  And again the government has come down on us harder. Now we have been notified that we must complete a fifteen hour ‘continuing education’ credits in water pollution and conservation. I’m all for education, but these government-mandated classes for all farms in the state are not provided for free… we must pay for them ourselves.  The worse part is that they are given in the major population centers of Ventura or Monterrey to which we must take ourselves, and pay for our own lodging for the three days of the course.

   It is this extra bit that has me stymied.  We don’t really make any money doing this cactus business. All of our money goes to shipping, governmental fees of several thousand dollars yearly in order to maintain our licenses, permits, and associated fees and overhead expenses.  Knowing that this trip will lead us into negative financial territory makes me reluctant to want to go.  Knowing that due to these regulations, we must take  a sample of our water and have it analyzed monthly at unknown costs…. I am seriously aggravated at the state of our laws and the level of compliance required even for tiny little micro-farms.

   We have some months in  which to take the classes, and maybe I’ll find some classes nearby, but this more personal posting than usual is to let the people know that governmental regulations are  a double-edged sword. While they give the USA good traceability in produce, and  what is perhaps the safest produce in the world, it also makes for stronger economy-of-scale issues that stymie the small grower… right at a time that we are needing MORE small farms, not less.  If we were a huge corporate farm, with many employees, still we would need just one person to go to the classes, but when it’s a one-man operation, the standards are the same. The costs are the same, but they are a larger share of the profit in a small operation like ours.

     My usual outlook is of hope and positive thoughts. Rarely am I dragged into this level of aggravation.    I am sure I will sign up for the classes in Monterrey, they seem very informative and interesting.  But people need to know that excessive governmental regulations strangle small business, they hamper the process of business formulation.  We need to seriously look at what we want for this country, a place where people can transact business legally and efficiently with little governmental interference. If the government requires classes such as this, it should place them within the reach of the people, if it requires monthly water sampling, it should have a method to make such sampling efficient and inexpensive, (the paperwork mentions some samples might cost $8,000 yearly).

   Excessive governmental regulations hamper small business more than the large. If due only to ‘economy of scale’.

    When my dad grew up on an Ozark farm in the thirties and forties, they raised corn and wheat, raised hogs which they sold every fall and winter, and had a hundred or so chickens from which they sold eggs daily. They had five or six milk cows which they milked by hand, using the milk for food and their dogs, and one milk-can daily which they left on the roadside for the milk company to pick up.  They also went to neighboring farms to supply skilled farm labor.  Nowadays they would have to have many more permits, and each operation would require specialized equipment and permits and licensing.  As all these regulations pile onto business, you must streamline your operations, drop aspects that have no profit and require permits,  then you start to specialize. Yet a small family farm should not be a specialist farm, it should have a wide variety of foods and animals to create the ‘loop system’ for bio-diversity.  Yet through the years we have had to drop livestock from our farm, first initially because we did not have proper butchering facilities,  so we stopped the breeding of animals, until we had no more. We stopped using manures for fertilizer years ago because the government is worried about contamination of the soils with bacteria from manures. We stopped bringing in mulches for weed control and soil building because we could not vouch for the exact trees the wood chips came from. We are now a closed system with no outside inputs, and only material going out at a rate of a ton a month. Yet even this production is priced so low, and the shipping and governmental costs are so high, that we make no profit.  One day, it might just get through my head that I’m better off just enjoying the property ourselves, and stop working so hard to make a business out of it.  Yet, I know I can’t, we have such great customers….

   While mulling these thoughts over in my head, I decided I needed to go for a walk. So with my camera in hand, I went down the road and took photos of the things I love about living here.  And it is when in the wilderness, when I am furthest from people and the government, that I am closest to God and nature.  These photos are my world, they are my daily activities and sights…. it is what is most in my heart.

 

 

‘One Tin Soldier’
`Lambert-Potter’

 

    Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below.
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone,
And the valley-people swore
They’d have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.

There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they’d kill.
Came an answer from the kingdom,
“With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there.”
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
Now the valley cried with anger,
“Mount your horses! Draw your sword!”
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.
Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it…
“Peace on Earth” was all it said.
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.

 

 

 

Company director jailed for selling fake organic food

Company director jailed for selling fake organic food

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1215622/Company-director-jailed-selling-fake-organic-food-served-Buckingham-Palace.html#ixzz0RwkoStLN

   Even though I don’t like the big thumb of the Federal Government squishing people all over the place…. this is one of the reasons I support a certain amount of governmental interference in some aspects of the marketplace.