Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

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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.

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.

Zen and the Art of weeding

 

Vickie and I were going around the pond today weeding the tender shoots of springtime grass. While bending and methodically tugging the grasses out of the mulch it made me reflect on weeding. Not that this is anything that is normally given much thought, but the facts as I see it are that one can work hard at a weeding job year after year, or one can work with consistency and attention to the life cycle of the plants, noting their seeding and other reproductive characteristics and use that to your advantage to reduce total weeding chores when considering the whole scope of the garden as its’ design is carried on from year to year. My major thoughts on weeding are this:

* Not all plants are weeds. ‘Weed’ is a term we use to denote a plant that is growing where one does not want it to grow. Therefor a cactus plant in a cornfield is a weed. But a corn plant in a cactus patch may be seen as a weed to the cactus grower. I stress this to make the point that ‘weed’ is used as a derogatory term to a certain extent. Yet all plants share many characteristics that when understood may be used to enable one to come to terms with weeding.

* A beautiful manicured garden is attractive, but is much work. It may be better to tolerate a small amount of weeds in some areas that are not negatively impacted by a small amount of weed growth. I for instance have some areas where we grow our large plants, I do absolutely no weeding on many of these areas. The cactus plants and trees are able to grow above or within the rank foliage of the annual grasses and herbs. They cause no harm to the cactus plants, and indeed help to bind the soil during our rainy periods in the winter. I let them grow until they have set seed, then I come along with a hand-held string trimmer (51cc Shindaiwa) and spend several days cutting the annual grasses down to six inches or so from the ground. The cut portions of the grasses will settle onto the ground and form a light mulch that will shade the soil, and eventually rot back into the soil keeping the humus content of the soil high. These grasses are often six feet high and I cannot see many cactus when viewing the area from a distance. In fact it is fun for Vickie and I to walk into this ‘high grass’ area and be twenty feet from one another and barely able to see each other. It is also interesting to see the succession of grasses and forbs that grow in this area, there is a regular progression of different plants that grow throughout the winter. The cutting of the grasses also affords a chance for me to get the perennial plants that like to grow here, the poison oak, lupines, sagebrush and creosote etc. I do like to keep the hillside cactus garden free of these perennial plants that often will interfere with my cactus growing efforts. Some will say that the garden could be better and more easily maintained with just an herbicide application, and while this might be true in the short term, I believe this is a short-sighted approach when you consider the fact that weed plants carry a certain amount of bio-mass that will be returned to the soil in a form that the micro-flora and fauna will be able to use. The mulch of the plants when cut and left on the soil surface will perform the same function as a purchased and brought in mulch. It will shade the soil, and moderate temperatures; Hold moisture in; keep the soil open and easily permeable to water, roots and worms. It will encourage the worms to run to the surface at night, feeding on the detritus there and returning back into the lower levels when day comes. This is actually much better than the old ‘dust mulch’ or bare earth methods which became popular in the 1800′s and continue largely unabated to this day.

* There are times and places that I want absolutely no plants growing that I did not plant. Mostly this is in the vegetable garden, where I often have bare soil for a short time while young plants are breaking the surface. Most of our annual native plants are very fast growers and will out-compete the non-native vegetables. For this reason I really like to make sure that the vegetables will have generally weed free conditions in which to get off to a good start. There are two ways to do this, one is the hard way and one is the easy way. The hard way entails endlessly sitting and kneeling on the soil pulling weeds laboriously from the ground one at a time, taking care to differentiate the weeds from the vegetables, and doing this for a couple weeks off and on until the weeds are gone and the vegetables are getting large enough to out-compete the weeds. The easy way is to plan ahead a bit, don’t get into such a rush to plant today, prepare the soil much in advance of the planting, rake the soil after adding the compost and other fertilizers and digging it in. Water the soil, and let it sit for a week, then lightly rake it again. This will uproot the young weeds and many of them will die. Let them sit for a few days dying in the sun, then rake again to kill the rest you missed. Then water a couple days later, and a week after that rake the soil again. This should kill the majority of the weeds that will be germinating. Now when you plant soon after this do not till the soil again, the trick to this is to keep all buried weed seeds buried and not near the surface where they will germinate. If they were near the surface initially they germinated and were killed with the raking. So what you do now is scatter the vegetable seeds in the beds and rake them in gently to get them a bit covered up. This will get you some nice plants growing up without much competion from weeds. Of course you should still keep an eye on the beds to remove the odd weed here and there (we all know that they will come in on occasion).

* ‘One years’ seeding makes one years’ weeding’ is an old axiom that is worth repeating endlessy. Another one that I like is ‘A stitch in time saves nine’. Both of these are so very appropriate when used in the weeding context. Let me explain. A weed seed can live for years in a dormant state, in fact a seed in a sense is really a real live thing in a state of ‘suspended animation’. It has a food supply on which to draw from when the time comes to sprout. This will enable it to get a start in life until it’s own leaves can unfold and process the foods coming from the newly developing roots. The plant does not have an infinite reservoir of nutrients, it has only enough to live until it can break the soil surface. But what if it has been buried deep in the soil by an animal or tilling? In this case the seed can in many cases ‘sense’ that it is too deep, so it waits. Nature has infinite patience and can outlast any person. There are cases of archaeological digs in which ancient seeds, hundreds, even thousands of years old were found, and sprouted. I once grew a strain of black corn found at an Aztec archaeological dig in Mexico. When you let your weeds go to seed you are making a lot of work for yourself in coming years. I believe that it is imperative to get rid of all weeds before they seed themselves. So do not have more garden than you can handle, it is better to have a smaller garden that is very little work, and as the years go by you can add to it as your experience grows. This is preferable to a large garden that overwhelms you with the great demands imposed by the seasons. * Have a good deep mulch where it is possible. Vickie and I single handily take care of a lot of garden, and we try to do it with a minimum of work. We are so busy adding on to our gardens with new area that we have to reduce the work of upkeep and maintenance on the established sections.We do this with mulch piled kind of deep when I can. Near the house I do not want too much in the way of weeds or ground cover. I like the ground to be open to view, this is because I like the open ‘park-like’ effect of open ground. I also like the ground to be visible when walking near the house due to the high number of rattlesnakes near our house, we also have scorpions and other creatures which are interesting to observe but you miss them if the ground is covered with weeds or grasses. I like to use mulch piled about 4 inches thick onto the soil. When making a new garden area I like to weed-whack the ground to get rid of the deep grasses, then I pile the mulch on five or even six inches deep. Over the next few months it will settle down to a fibrous mat about four inches thick smothering much of the native plant material. Even better is a thick layer of newspapers (not the glossies) covered with a few inches of mulch. I don’t use the papers myself, but know people who have had good luck with that method. I work such large areas and have to be concerned with my organic certification, so I stick with just the mulch. I use about fifty to sixty cubic yards of mulch yearly, and that is not nearly enough to do what I want to do. You might be able to get spent tree clippings from a municipal source nearby for free. I can stop by a yard where the county dumps this stuff from the municipal tree trimming crews. It used to be that people in town could get them to drop it off at their house because no-one really wanted it. But now that there is a bit of competition for this material they decided to just dump it in a pile and let people take it home themselves. Now this mulch will by no means entirely eliminate weeding from your life. It just reduces the weed growth a quite a bit depending on the weeds and their growth habits. But it sure does make the weeding job easier. Imagine crawling over an area you have mulched the year before, here and there are weeds coming up through the mulch, you grip one and it comes out of the soft spongy mulch so easily, a lot less work is involved with each individual weed, and a lot less weeds in total.

There are two ways that weeds will be in a mulched area, there will be tough weeds that grow through it from below, these will be perennial weeds like bushes and tough forbes, but they are now isolated and singular instead of being one weed among thousands. So you can now take some effort into getting rid of them easily, maybe digging then out if necessary, slicing into the root with a spade (without digging the mulch in). The other type of weed that gets through the mulch in this area is the creeping rhizome types that spread by underground stolons. The only way to get these is to make sure you continually pull the ones you can get without digging into the soil. On occasion I will add more mulch over patches of this type that cause me such trouble. I continually try to ‘drown’ them in more mulch, building the mulch higher and higher. Hoping to eventually cause the plant to run out of energy to keep up, at some point it will die. You will also get new weeds that will come in as wind blown, or animal deposited seeds and land onto the mulch. These are where the real beauty of mulch comes into its own. These type of seeds will drop a bit into the mulch, and start their germination, they will perceive themselves to be in the ground and will send out a root to pull up nutrients, they will also stick their little heads above ground getting light. This is when you can come along when they are weeks or months into growth (but remember to get them before they flower) and you can so very easily pull these from the ground, they will have no good roots as they were just growing in the fibrous mat of the mulch. They will have a long root which has been trying to work it’s way through the mulch trying to find a nutrient source. This is one of the reasons I like mulch around the house so much, it does really make for an attractive landscape. A saying I made up goes ‘one hours mulching is worth three hours weeding’. I really feel that I save so much work by mulching that I do not begrudge the chore of stopping by the mulch yard to get a truck load when I can.

There are many schools of thought on weeding, some say that we should let nature take its course and accept the native vegetation. I do this to a degree in some areas as explained earlier, but when it comes to attractive and easy to walk on and safe I much prefer no weeds. But I must say that nature in general does not like bare ground, bare ground is generally not going to grow much. So I like to have the mulch to cover the soil and take the place of the grasses that would normally be there.

Fresh food can’t be beat

Sweet Peppers, almost ripe

Sweet Peppers, almost ripe

I like these sliced into little rings on my samiches, which in the summer also have tomatoes.

Tomatoes starting to ripen
Tomatoes starting to ripen

Nothing beats a fresh grown tomato, except watermelon.
These guys are almost ripe.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichokes are a type of sunflower.

 When the first frost comes, it’ll kill the leaves and stems of the plants, and they will transfer all their energy to the roots. In spring, the roots loaded with all the life of the plant will put out good growth. I can eat them anytime after the first frost… until the early spring when they start to grow out again.
Jerusalem artichokes are usually considered a ‘famine food’, something people live on when times are really bad and no ‘real-good’ food can be found. But, I really love the taste of these nobbly roots, they have a nutty taste, and are super-great (double-plus good) fried in olive oil with onions…. and with fried liver on the side if you’re into that…. I’m not too picky about my food, as long as it is fresh and natural I’m happy to eat it.

Yellow Jacket Wasp

081309yelowjackettrap2

  There is a species of yellow jacket wasp that gives our cactus fruits some real problems.  The wasp is a predatory creature that enjoys meat for the protein while raising young.  The insect also needs a lot of sugars for the energy. In the spring, the wasp larvae secrete a waste product high in sugars. This high carbohydrate source is eagerly taken up by the adults who tend the young, feeding them the meat they have prepared for them through mastication.

 

   In the late summer the wasps have no more young, so they aren’t getting the sugars they need.  This is also the time our cactus fruits start to ripen. The wasps will cut holes through the rind of the fruit, and a dozen wasps will sometimes occupy it to gorge on the sweet juice of the cactus fruit.  Needless to say, this bothers me considerably. So I start a trapping program whenever I see the wasp population swell. I like to reduce their numbers before the fruits ripen.  I use various lures depending on the season. In the spring and summer, they like meat, and they seem to have a special liking for the odors of some of the canned cat and dog foods we feed our animals. Once the cactus fruits start ripening, I’ll take any that become pierced by wasps, and use them for bait.

 

   Most of the traps come with a pheromone lure.  I’ve found that the pheromone combined with cat food or cactus fruit works best.

   We can catch some large numbers of wasps pretty fast here.

On inputs and what ya get out

  People like to ask me about soil fertility… and I like to talk about soil fertility. Soils is one of my favorite subjects.

   Well, the nutrients and carbon levels in the soil is my particular focus.  That’s what it comes down to in the end, because the organic levels will correct a great many other ills.

   “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” goes the old saw.  And like most old sayings, it stands today because it has the great abundance of truth behind it.  But there’s always the exception, here it is the implication behind “probably”. Yes, there just might be exceptions. And again, carbon and the organic matter it derives from is the great leveler of soil’s chemical and physical excesses.  Rarely is there something that you can say “it helps bring the low higher, and the high lower”, but organic matter will do just that. It can help a sandy open-coarse soil to close up some, the carbon acting like sponges between the sand grains… and it can make a hard tight chemically bound soil open by the sponge action of organic matter acting as physical barriers between the flat clay particles. It can also serve to moderate both high and low P.H. factors. I mean, it’s a be-all/cure-all (almost). The stuff is like snake oil… one good dose and you’ll see some results!  Organic mater has a half-life of years, so as you add more and more through the years, your soil fertility and tilth will increase until your soil is a wonder and a work of art.   There’s not much that’s more pleasurable than to dig into some soil with the correct moisture level, so your fork or spade slides in like a knife into a wedding cake… you pull/push down on the handle, and see the clump gently rise like an island from the sea…. and then you have a big slice of life, five pounds of dark rich soil with billions of micro-organisms, teeming with life, swarming with creatures both plant and animal and some.. who knows?  For an imaginary look into these small creatures see my article ‘Soil Microbes and their importance… AKA ‘Small World’.

   Good soil is a blessing, and like most blessings, it comes to you along with years of work and dedication. Good soil does not just land in your lap and stay… mess with it too much and you’ll destroy it…. you have to know how it lives, and breathes. Soil is almost alive…. sure, it’s not all connected all over as one organism, but destroy the life in it, and you destroy much of the fertility that is naturally present year by year. Chemically it will still be there, but will become bound chemically through harsh treatment. The fertility will then only be released through amendments.. resulting in the famous ‘shot in the arm’ techniques of conventional farming.  Then you are tied to the big chemical companies… stuck on the treadmill of chemical addiction, while the answer lays right before you in the proper care of the land through organic means.

   Ai, there’s the rub. For while I may wish to bring in tons and tons of organic amendments such as horse and cow manure…. street tree trimmings and chipped yard waste…. I can’t be sure of the origin and or composition of such materials.   All animals manures will be loaded with huge amounts of chemicals designed to give commercial stock a boost in growth.   Any chipped mulch from along a street might contain some amounts of lead. 

   It has always been accepted that reduced imports onto a property will mean reduced likely hood of disease importation. Now we are awakening to the fact that animal manure, that darling of old agriculture is now potentially toxic to a degree. We have been ‘encouraged’ to cease our own use of animal manures.. and it has been three years now since we’ve brought any manures onto the property.  The same has happened with the wood chips we used to import…. we’ve switched from a clean-mulch layer, to clean-cultivation on our small plants… and on the large plants, we allow the native grasses to grow, then we mow or till them into the ground depending on location, crop and the timing.  In this way, we still add organic matter to the soil without having to bring any in.

 

 

   It’s forced a little different way of thinking onto me…. I liked the nearly weed-free aspect of the thick mulch. It’s great to be able to walk on top of the ground instead of in the grass where you can’t see the rattlesnakes.  I loved the way the mulch held the soil moisture until June or July without watering. I figured each hour of spreading mulch saved me several hours of weeding over the next couple of years. And ground that has had five inches of wood chips…. replenished with an inch or two of chips each year (it burns into the soil the fastest the first few years) is a wonder to behold. Bare, rocky and dry desert ground will turn into a winder of nature after five years under wood chips.  But then I was told I should not really bring a lot of mulch in… and it would be good for me to allow the weeds and grasses to grow and don’t cut them until they seed, so they will be sure to grow again next year….. this goes against all my Puritan-Work-Ethic upbringing….. how the heck am I supposed to watch grasses grow four feet high in my cactus orchard? I mean, it’s half the height of the plants.  But then in April when the first buds are coming out, and the grasses have set seeds, I can weed whack between the plants, and have a pretty decent cut area that only needs one more cutting in the late summer to keep it fresh looking.  And no longer do I need to go out with the truck and get a load of leaves.  So once I let myself ‘get along with the program’, I found that in an odd way, it’s a bit like a child’s dream… “why mow that lawn every week when it’s just going to grow back in a few days?”  But  it makes a lot of sense to reduce foreign inputs.  This was brought up recently when it was found that the levels of lead in the garden at the White House were a bit high. This is reputed to be due to the use of sewage sludge in the past to fertilize.  The sludge will often contain drugs and chemicals that people flush down the toilet.  But it has been reported that the gardenerswere able to use organic matter to ‘buffer’ the chemical interactions of the lead with the other materials nearby… this rendered the lead essentially ‘unavailable’ in any great quantity. Chemistry is very interesting.. and soil chemistry is furthermore affected by soil moisture levels, and temperatures.  Organic mater buffers those factors as well… it’s just ‘plain all-around’ good stuff.

    So while the new federal organic regulations are a bit to get used to…. so far we’ve found no great huge obstacle in the way… all the requirements gave us an option to move to another way.. the way we’re encouraged to move… although sometimes I think that much of the reasoning is pushed by concepts that are more philosophical than practical. But the White House garden illustrates that the concepts that have taken over the federal organics standards do have a solid standing in science and disease prevention.

Ant Tips from the pro

   There’s plenty of critters out there that cause problems… one of our biggest is ants. They like to scrape the waxy skin off the cactus to get the sweet sap the leaves have locked behind all those calcium-walled cells.

   I use Boric acid in the house. It is pretty benign… I worked with toxic chemicals for a living for many years… I really don’t like toxins…. so I go for the most benign I can find. And boric acid is my fave for ant control…. my recipe is…

3 cups water, bring to a boil

1 cup sugar, dissolve in the boiling water

4 teaspoons boric acid powder, dissolve in the sugar water

Allow it to cool, then pour it onto cotton balls in little cups, leave it out. The ants wil come to it and eat the sugar and carry it back to the nest to feed the Queen and babies. It takes a couple of days for it to kill them at that concentration. You want them to take it back and kill the whole nest. So don’t make it stronger to get a faster kill.   One lady I know couldn’t stand the thought that she was ‘feeding’ ants.. she told me her dishes were covered black with ants going for the sugar/boric acid mix. She worried she was helping them, so she threw out the formula, and went and bought some spray. But with the sprays you have toxins all through your home, and it only kills the workers out to roam… it doesn’t get the Queen. Our boric acid formula will likely help you kill that Queen and stop all ant-issues right then and there…. until another wandering fertile Queen wanders in with some followers.

   Some ants don’t want sugar, they might want proteins, so then try to mix the powder with the food they want (cat or dog food or pie). It’s harder to get the correct ratio then, but try, it’s worth the fight.

 

 

  Go to http://safeandgreenliving.blogspot.com/2009/05/natural-ant-deterrent-tips.html for some more tips on ant control.

   Or to ‘About.com’ for their article ‘Get Rid of Ants Cheaply and Naturally’

A Garden Spider Web

 

A Garden Spider Web

 

 

 

    There’s plenty of folks who have an instinctive dread of spiders. But we all know that the spider’s main interest is catching and eating insects… insects that we might not want around.  So we encourage spiders on our place…. we’ve got lots of them.

 

    It is so amazing to see the work that spiders do….. very industrious creatures they are.

 

   A friend who is a drug and alcohol counselor sent me this video below

 

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Spider Webs

gardenspider0809_3

A crazy-quilt stitched together with a straightjacket

   One of the delights  and also inconveniences of the US is the hodge-podge of laws and customs. Often these vary as much between states as they do between countries in Europe.

   On occasion we as a people get together and hand over ‘blanket-authority’ to the federal government to consolidate laws regarding one issue or another into a set of standards determined by the Federal government.  Of course, when we do this, the federal government also enforces, and regulates these laws.   And the federal government being what it is, we can expect that it will not do a good job dealing with the small issues… or rather, they also focus on ‘small issues’ with blanket provisions that over-rule any objections based on individual circumstances.

   Now in addition to the feds poking around.. farmers are having to deal with investigators  hired by the large grocery distributors. They are  on a  quest to make the food supply safe by removing vegetated borderlands from farms, borderlands that might harbor wildlife and insects that might cause a ‘preception’ of problems. This of course comes down hardest on organic farmers who usually try to have some buffer lands with flowering brush and grasses that would harbor a beneficial insect population.

   Yeah, it gets worser and worser. Read about it at the San Francisco Chronicle

 

   Best bet is to know the grower you get your food from