Richard White

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since Sep 12, 2012
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Recent posts by Richard White

All correct answers and suggestions. My experience in small plots ... hand pollinate to get the best results. I live in a dry hot climate when the corn is pollinating. My best pollination time is 6 to 9 am. I have no shortage of wind or insect pollinators. I planted 4 row blocks and still only moderate filled ears (some very good but most imperfect). It all makes good corn for stews but could have been better yield. I went for the wind pollination this year instead of hand pollinating. Given the small effort to hand pollinate and the big result I will always hand pollinate in the future. Good luck all.

PS. Hand pollinating can be as simple as shaking the pollen from one plant onto the silk of itself or other nearby.
6 years ago
My experience is out in the west in well drained sands. I'm not convinced that any amendment is permanent, especially if your water chemistry is extreme. It's good to learn what can be achieved in your soil.
6 years ago
Rose, your post seems dated now but I'll give a view from a soil scientist that has embraced organics.

In my opinion the only way conventional (ionic) agriculture works is to base your nutrient inputs upon a soil, tissue and water analysis. These are specific laboratory tests and the recommendations are crop specific. Everyone who looks at the conventional approach should consider it a mining operation; nutrients and organic matter do not accumulate here. Nutrients are removed in the crop; that's why nutrients applied to your farm end up on someone else's table. There are specific nutrient balances (i.e. the concentration ratios between the 17 essential nutrients) for each crop. ANYTIME one adds an ionic fertilizer or amendment to the soil you have then disturbed the balance. Always there appears a loss of yield or another problem related to poor nutritional balance. Like humans, plants are susceptible to disease, and I find much disease that has to be controlled with fungicides or insecticides. I've worked with miners ( I hesitate to call them growers at this point) who apply potassium this week as potassium nitrate and the following week calcium nitrate, and so on. In affect they continue to upset the balance, and waste some of the goodness to leaching or volatility, and further instigate the problem of disease. Applying the "guess method" costs the grower in profits; hiring my services to correct the problems costs the grower in profits.

There is a better way. I learned from an individual (John Agulia) who was pioneering an organic approach for convention growers. The catch 22 problem he ran into is in the definition of the organic standard. USDA has an approved list of nutrients one can use as inputs and many of the macro and micro nutrients come in the form of sulfates (CaSO4, MgSO4, K2SO4). That's a lot of sulfates that will eventually cause nutrient imbalances. The trick John taught me is to complex the ionic nutrients within an organic system before it is applied to the crop. He prepared what many describe as a compost tea, except the description is a misnomer. It is not a 'tea' that is the simple leachate from compost. He used an activated bio-conversion process of inoic minerals to organic forms. He did this in a vat with active oxygenation. He essentially stimulated the same biologicals that would be present in the soil (bacteria and fungi) to work in a controlled environment vat. I am simplifying the process for sake of clarity for readers, but the result was the balanced nutrition the crop required in an organic form that once placed in the root zone stayed in the root zone. He achieved the balanced nutrition required, with soil and tissue analysis and conventional fertilizers. His approach could not and would not meet the organic standards; his production could not be labeled organic. However, his yields and product quality were equal or better than 'pure organic methods' and he virtually eliminated the need for pesticides (because the plant health didn't give the signs that attract the pests). And all this could be gained on production sized plots we view as mono-culture cropping.

This is a Permaculture blog and as a PDC graduate the principals I work toward are to feed as many as I can with quality whole foods. I work with organics because this is the secrete to good wholesome food, clean water and clean air. I work with conventional farmers because much of America feeds itself from supermarket shelves and fast food vendors (and I do hate to call that food). When an if there is a 'free-market' failure and people return to the land, there will first be the inner city 'victory gardens' and the many markets for fresh food; the souls that eat there today deserve a more nutritious meal.

Those of you who adhere to the organic standard or better come in two categories; struggling to make it work because the soil and the site are ill-suited to the food you want to grow and apply conventional farming logic with conventional mineral amendments and have mixed results; or you are blessed with decent climate and rich loam soil that is full of earth worms and organic matter. We wish we could all be the latter description. My personal ranch fits the first description. All around my site is conventional soil mining-farming. We pump groundwater in this valley and it carries ionic salts; my well water ranges from 1400 to 1900 ppm. When I pump water, I am effectively fertigating with water soluable ionic solutions; I understand this and supplement the nutrition that lacks in the water. They grow a lot of carrots here that require much water in this arid climate, and the result is that the land has to lie fallow for three years before it can be planted again; it takes three rainy seasons to clean the soil of excess salts.

My soil is fine sandy alluvium that is old flood zone terrace and that support natural grass and sage. Typical farming uses the disc and plow to turn the soil over to till in the stubble mulch to prepare the new seed bed. When this is done, the soil dries rapidly and becomes wind blown dust. The soil on my ranch is typically wind blow sand for the top 4 to 6 inches. The individual grains of sand are uniform round and pack like marbles in a dense packing arrangement. I have no clay; there is some silt; there is little organic matter. The soil holds little water and has virtually no nutrient exchange capacity. An ionic solution applied to this soil can move beyond the root zone with little water. I have a 20 acre parcel that had been dry land horse pasture 10 years ago, but it has the signs that it was once irrigated pasture when there use to be plenty of water in the valley. I draw my meager supply from a well that supported 500 acres of alfalfa in its day. High water use crops like alfalfa and further over cropping, has reduce the water table and the water quality at this end of the ground water basin. The upper portion of this valley is blessed with high quality water. The land is almost a flat as a billiard table. This is the proverbial nightmare for an organic farm, but it is the challenge I have taken on.

I have to qualify the 'organic farm' status. Right now I have to make nutrient inputs, but my goal is to become sustaining. I am in the soil building phase which means always incorporating the organic composts and mulches, feeding the soil biology, reducing mechanical cultivation, and stubble cropping. I used a modified "Keyline" approach in my first ground breaking in a semi-circle partial arc to shed the prevailing winds and I used tall furrows (more like micro-swales) that I knew were working from the first day I installed them as I could see the wind blown dust exiting the end of the arc and away from my house rather than being in my house as was normal. I planted sunflower, corn and milo in rows for in-season wind break (summer hot dry air at 20+ mph daily), while I establish Chilopsis linearis (Desert Willow) for permanent wind breaks an borders. I intercropped with water melon, cantalope, and Chantrais melons. Plus several varieties of squash. I have found that these are crops that tolerate my climate and the many animal pests that surround me, and command a market price that can sustain my activities. My objective was to produce market quality produce. I achieved that goal and have improved my soil while increasing the soil biology and its water and nutrient holding too. I am not 100% organic yet, but that is the ultimate goal.

If you are going to farm an economic crop, And if you are going to use a mineral fertilizer or amendment (as you will have to until you have enough biological nutrient capitol in the bank/soil to sustain a crop) I recommend two approaches: add it as an activated biological conversion (as I described above) or add it in your compost. In my arid climate I compost all green waste from my production and trees in winter. I know my soil is weak in almost every nutrient and have achieve success by complexing the addtions of nutrients in an organic form before they reach the plant.

I have been fortunate to obtain 17 truck loads of wood chips and fresh leaves from commercial tree trimmers this summer. At the end of a composting period, I sieve the compost through a 1/4 inch screen. That which passes can be incorporated into the soil. That which does not becomes surface mulch. In this arid climate, if I let Mother Nature do the job, the leaves would still be recognizable as Mulberry or watermelon 5 years down the road. In this climate conventional farming opens the soil by disk and plow. It first looses the moisture the organisms require, and further increase the loss of organic carbon to the atmosphere. Minimum tillage keeps much of it in place.

I can achieve an economic crop of whole and nutritious food, while I convert to a permaculture design.

There is one more (actually more than one, as saline water management has its own challenges) not so secrete ingredient that makes all of this work. I have found that it is an essential ingredient for quality and flavor, and in many ways like the 17 essential nutrients that I personally consider it essential to the health of the plant. The ingredient is Humic Acid. Humus if you will. It is the ingredient that rich loamy soils have an abundance of, and why these soils can grow abundance. And it is the reason that a loam soil is on everyone's wish list. I make organic amendments to my soil to make it more loam-like.

The most amazing part of organic growing is that once you have the soil capital in reserve, the plant naturally takes its nutrition in the balance it requires. Gone are the soil and plant tests; water quality is a separate issue. But when you achieve balance, you are no longer mining the "ionic earth".

6 years ago
Another thought; you have the DC solar pump I would consider the bicycle to drive an alternator. Its also possible to drive a fly wheel as well.
6 years ago
I dont have the experience but I have the similar idea. Your application sounds like having to replace windmill drive components with a direct chain drive from the bicycle.
If you had the windmill to pump maybe your bicycle drive would be for emergency or to cover your needs when its not windy.
6 years ago
Good comment on breaking up your clay with roots. Clays are problematic in that they have low oxygen in the root zone when wet. Old root channels will conduct oxygen into the soil and young plants won't have to work so hard in the future. All is good. Cheers`
6 years ago
Thanks for the comment. What species have you tried? I have gravitated to the multiple flower yet robust and tall (to 8 ft) specimens as they perform well over the past 4 years and hold up to my daily 20+ mph dry winds; not sure of the species name. I replant from my own seed supply.
6 years ago
I invite open discussions on anything from swales to soil building to saline soils and water management always using organic methods and permaculture design.
6 years ago
I am thinking you are correct in your observations. The best seed are plump and black. I saved enough of last year's harvest to plant a 200' double row in a modified Keyline design for 1) wind break, 2) chicken feed, 3) soil building, 4) compost, and 5) to attract bees and pollinators for my other nearby crops. As I harvest now a few heads have seeds that are whitish in color and appear immature. Immature means they they probably will not germinate due to seed maturity. It does not mean they are not nutritious as your Finches can testify especially if the seed are plump and white. Right now it is a battle between me and my wild finches, sparrows, dove, quail and feral pigeons. My chickens are free rangers and also compete for the seed that ends up on the ground. There is an additional side benefit; the bird droppings are bringing additional phosphorous to my otherwise arid sandy landscape.

Keep up the good work. The flowers are a bright and cheery reminder of the good we are doing for the environment.
6 years ago
Wow! a lot of posts a year ago; is this correct? Odd that my post is exactly one year later.

All the posts here make great advice. I'll ad my two bits.

First, I live in Southern California high desert with air humidity almost always less than 30%. My soil is very fine to fine sandy flood plain alluvium Nothing I can see composts naturally in this environment, except for a brief period after a soaking rain. All my yard wastes are composted actively by adding water and some nutrients directly in the pile. I always save some of the last compost to inoculate the new pile, just like making yoghurt.

If the waste is based upon the organic carbon based molecule, it will compost.

Typically a compost is an aerated biological conversion. The bacteria are first to feed on the smorgasbord of raw food. If there is enough nitrogen in the raw ingredients your pile will generate significant heat. Heat is good as it kills off a large number of the pests and larvae. My chickens always make their rounds to include the compost pile; they finish the job and love me when I turn the pile.

If its particularly smelly, like some of my kitchen waste kept temporary in a 5 gal bucket with a lid, it means the material went anerobic (i.e. without oxygen, and the by-products are labeled a Ferment). I learned from a master that the ferment products have other benefits than as nutrients in the cycle. Its all good. I bury the offensive smelly wastes deep in the pile near an edge so that they will mix into the general pile after the first turning.

I prefer rain water for the compost but I rarely get that luxury. If you have that resource feel blessed. My ground water carries a salt load (1400 ppm min ... 1900 ppm max). Some of these salts are plant nutrients and some are toxins. I minimize how much I use to start the pile and find it useful to loosely tarp the pile to minimize evaporation. Eventually, the low ambient humidity in the air will dry the top 6" or so, but tarping retards this process.

I use a 'chipper' to reduce the size of all material and expose more surface area to decompose rapidly. Bones, and egg shells or sea shells if you have that resource, will add the much needed calcium.

I apply my compost as a 'top dressing' cover mulch. When the season is over the compost gets tilled into the soil. Even after 6 mos in the compost pile and a season as a mulch, the composted products can still be recognized as plant parts. However, some of the compost with the aid of the fungi breaks-down to the substance plants love; it is what the scientists call Humic Acid, and what I prefer to think of as functioning in plant health and quality like an essential nutrient.

I have a long ways to go improving my soil, but I can grow many healthy crops in abundance. The compost conversion increase both my water holding and nutrient exchange mechanisms in the soil.

6 years ago