Have you flipped through a seed catalog or shopped for seeds and wondered what is the difference between all the seed types? It can be an overwhelming experience just trying to choose a variety, the choices can seem endless.
There are open-pollinated (OP), F1 Hybrids and Heirloom. Lets discuss each and explain what each of these seed types mean below.
If your goal is to be self sufficient or to pass your favorite seeds down to the next generation you will need heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. These seeds will produce plants that will grow true from your saved seeds, IF the open-pollinated plants do not cross pollinate with similar plants. Example, if you want to save an heirloom squash variety one season, you must be cautious not to plant a different variety that same season, like a zucchini and pumpkin. Hand pollination is another option.
Heirloom, this means that the seeds have a generational history, heirloom seeds have a verified and documented history of being passed down from one generation to the next. These seeds have come from small farms that are not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture. These seeds often carry stories with them. ALL heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated are heirlooms.
Only a small fraction of the plant world are considered to be true heirloom.
Open-Pollinated, this means that the flowers of the plants are fertilized by pollinators, the wind or water. Pollinators such as wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, birds, flies and even bats. Put simply pollination is movement of pollen to a flowers stigma which results in fertilization of the flowers eggs. An adequately fertilized flower will produce seeds and fruit surrounding seeds, which ensures a new generation of plants can be grown.
Pollination is mutually beneficial to the plant and the pollinators; the pollinators benefit from the nectar, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fats and minerals. Note; Open Pollinated (OP) varieties are genetically diverse, so there can be a lot of variation in both the plants and fruits.
F1 Hybrids, This means that the plants have been selectively bred by cross pollinating two different parent plants. F1 is the abbreviation for Fillial 1- Literally "First Children". Hybridization has been around since the 19th century. Hybridization came about to improve the crop, increasing disease resistance, improving plant vigor, fruit production and sometimes flavor.
If you save seed from a hybrid and grow it, you will end up with one of the parent plants, not the plant that produced the seed. Hybrids have to be bought every year and they will usually have more uniform fruit and better growth. Organic hybrids are now available.
There is some confusion regarding hybrids and GMO's. Hybrids are NOT GMO, genetically modified. GMO's are modified in a lab setting, they are NOT hybridized.
If you want good production, more disease resistant plants, or want to put food up for storage then hybrids may be a good choice.
If your goal is to save seeds for the future, then open-pollinated heirlooms are a good choice.
It is winter and thus the time we all can experience a little "cabin fever", depending on where you live, of course. Here in North East Tennessee the winters are very mild comparatively. I still find myself getting a little cabin fever in the winter months though. I am definitely an outdoors person, so even on a warm and rainy day like today, I feel a little cooped up, sigh...
On days like these I am indoors and so to keep myself busy I will tidy up the home indoors, listen to music and write if I get the chance. Writing is definitely not as therapeutic for me as being in the garden or with our critters, but it is therapeutic none the less. So I thought I would take my readers on a short journey of what we have been doing on our farmstead as of late.
We have been blessed to have met some wonderful and committed members of our communities that have volunteered with us, completing various agriculture activities in exchange for farm goods. These folks have been busy here and there on various tasks from cutting up down and dead trees to helping in the grow beds, cleaning them out from last years crops and building new erosion control barriers. We all learn from one another and in turn these relationships build a stronger community of skill sets, resiliency and food security. I appreciate each person that comes to the farm, everyone has something to offer, I really enjoy this aspect of creating the CSA.
A CSA fills multiple needs in a community; feeding families local, nutrient dense food, sharing skill sets with volunteers, being physically active, eating healthier, creating emotional health by being involved with each other in communications, which often times helps those that live alone. These are just a few ways a CSA can positively affect a community.
O.K., I got a little off the subject of the goings on at the farm, but after all, we are growing the CSA and the volunteer interns are a big part of the success of the CSA
Some of the projects;
Approximately 6 weeks ago the new beds were completed on the East side, filled with organic materials and will sit all winter resting and growing millions of microbes.
A few weeks ago I built 3 new 100 ft. x 4 ft. beds on the South facing slope.
Yesterday these beds were filled with composted materials and are now complete.
Next weekend two more 100 ft. beds will be added on the South slope and 2 more 50 ft. beds will be completed on the West slope. This will complete all of the added growing space for this year, next year is a different story! LOL
We have reconstructed our hoop house footing, the goal is to complete the hoop house before Spring, (was supposed to be done already, sigh..it will get done this year, God willing) so we will keep working on it. We will be depending on volunteers to help with the green house plastic when the time nears.
All of the bare root plants, tubers, etc... have been ordered and my seed bank is full for the 2018 season. So just a couple small orders and this seasons crops will be complete!! Exciting! I am one of those growers that plans months in advance ;) That is one reason why a CSA is a good fit for me. It requires an immense amount of planning and preparation and I thrive on the fast pace. ;0)
The dairy goat birthing nursery has been completed as we await the first birth from one of our Does on this farm.
The piglets got an addition built onto the first sow shed for added protection from the elements.
One more small project that has to wait for a dry day will be finishing the electric fencing of the hog lots, which will give them fresh forage.
Which brings us up to speed on the farmstead! The truth is as many of you know, the work never ends and the chores can quickly pile up on a farmstead, but winter is truly a time of much needed rest indoors.
Whenever I start to get a little frustrated at the weather, I tell myself that this is Gods way of slowing be down!! LOL!!
So today I will be grateful for a little cabin fever...
Housing/shelters- Ventilation is very important in designing your livestock shelters. The shelters should keep them dry and out of cold winds, but also vent well to decrease ammonia build up.
Provide ample insulation that will keep the animals at a minimum of 4” off of the ground or cement. The cement or ground will pull heat from the animals that lay directly on these surfaces.
Clean, dry straw is a good insulator that will provide a comfortable place for animals to lie down on and helps to insulate against the harsh elements.
Another neat trick is to use deep litter (thermophilic composting) methods to keep certain species of livestock warmer in winter. The basic principle is to create layers of livestock manures, then clean straw and repeat the process all winter. As the animals are defecating and urinating in the bedding, you simply turn it over every few days, allowing the microorganisms to breakdown the waste beneath and adding clean straw to the top. This method generates heat beneath as it composts and allows the animals to benefit from the heat generated from their own waste. It is important to turn it each time you add clean straw and to have proper ventilation for an aerobic, healthy composting to occur while keeping ammonia levels at a minimum.
The deep litter method works well with the FLOORS of chicken coops, goat and sheep shelters. For larger livestock, mucking out each day is advised because these species have wet manure and A LOT of it, so daily cleaning and weekly sprucing up and adding fresh straw or shavings is essential for good health. For chicken coops, the nesting boxes need to be cleaned and fresh shavings added daily, this will keep hens healthy and happy and the eggs nice and clean.
Water- All animals need water in cold temperatures, especially if it is freezing! Animals will quickly dehydrate in cold weather.
If there is no power outlet near your water tanks or buckets there are a few things that can help prevent the buckets from freezing.
There are several options for barns or livestock shelters with a power source nearby;
Electric water heater, de-ice devices, electric buckets, etc.…
Feed- Animals need more feed in the winter months with cold temperatures. The colder it gets the more energy they use to stay warm. Without high quality nutrients animals can deteriorate in body condition, thus making it harder for them to stay healthy. It is important to keep good quality hay available on a free feed basis and provide either grains or energy blocks that contain protein, fat and minerals. The roughage is the most important.
A few more tips;
Heavy duty plastic livestock curtains can be used on shelter openings to help reduce drafts in the shelters that do not have doors.
Keep hooves trimmed to prevent damage and rot that can be caused by muddy, wet ground in pens.
Avoid penning animals inside barns. Animals will take care of their needs if allowed clean dry bedding and ample room to exercise. They will also gravitate toward places that warm up in the day; example, our dairy goats like to hang out against the outside wall of their shelter on sunny days.
South facing shelters are the best in terms of living in an area with cold weather in the winter. This allows daytime sun to dry out and warm up the shelter, naturally.
There have been many articles written on this subject, these are a few things that we have used in the past and/or are using presently that have proven successful on our farm for our furry friends.
It does not need to be a complex matter, but it does take time and a few resources to get you started.
First let’s review the 4 basic soil types: sand, loam, clay and silt ~
loam: is known to contain a mixture of clay, loam, sand & organic matter.
Sand: is the largest particle in the soil. It is rough when rubbed together; it feels like sand paper, because it has sharp edges. There are not many nutrients in sand.
Silt: is the size and texture between sand and clay. It is smooth and powdery; it does not get sticky when wet like clay.
Clay: is considered the heaviest of the soils. It can contain a lot of nutrients, but due to its density it does not let air through (anaerobic). It also does not drain well, unless amended for aeration. Even though clay may be hard to work with, its high nutrient value makes it an excellent choice as a base for building upon.
Clay mix soil is what most of us in the East TN region deal with in our gardens, so we will be discussing building our soils with a clay base in this blog.
If you wish to have your soil tested first it will enhance this blog post and will give you a good idea of what you will need for amendments in your specific area. Inexpensive soil testing kits can be purchased at your local garden centers or local home improvement store, or ordered online.
About No-Till or No-Dig Gardening:
Here at Orchard Creek Farm we practice No-till gardening, it is much healthier for the soil microbes, protozoa, worms, etc..And can be easily built upon. I utilize several composting methods to achieve my goals and adhere to the NOP standards. We are talking about small to medium size gardens here in both open small fields and raised beds. The type of no-till farming practices in large agriculture circles will likely lead to soil compaction since they run heavy equipment across the earth and kill off the worms with herbicides. In contrast, no-till management in a backyard garden leads to rich, healthy soil that grows nutrient dense, high brix food. No-till gardening can be achieved in a variety of ways; raised beds, garden plots, containers, etc...If you haven't considered using the no-till method, I would encourage you to research its benefits and disadvantages for your specific growing needs and area.
The materials you choose will determine the length and temperature they must be composted to meet the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. For a composted product to qualify under the NOP, it must start with a carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio between 25:1 and 40:1 and be maintained at a temperature between 131 degrees F and 170 degrees F for 15 days, during this time the material must be turned a minimum of 5 times. If the composted material is made this way, the compost can be applied to crops with no restrictions.
The NOP is very specific about the use of manures. Composted manure is preferred, but if raw manure is applied, then the timing of application is critical. Where raw manures are used on land growing crops for human consumption, it must be applied within 120 days of harvest for crops where the edible portion touches the soil, or 90 days of harvest where the edible portion does not touch the soil..
If the compost consists of only plant materials, it is considered plant waste and there are no restrictions on timing.
How to Build Organic Soil for the No-Till Garden:
Choose your planting site that is free of tree stumps, shrubs, etc..., don't worry too much about short grass or weeds. Begin with layers of newspaper, cardboard, shredded junk mail on the bottom to create a base directly on your soil. Begin mulching the area on top of the base with mulch materials like; animal manures (if you can get them free of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics), old straw, wood chips, pine needles, coffee grounds, wood ash & kitchen scraps. The idea is to get equal amounts of greens and browns, with the aim to get a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1, (this is what I personally aim for) Keep repeating this process until it is several inches thick (I prefer 6-12” for our area and let over winter), taking care to keep it moist, but not too wet. It will need several months, depending on depth and weather to decompose correctly and would then be ready for direct spring planting. Keep excellent records!
How to build soil for raised Beds:
In order to have the correct soil for raised beds try the layering method combined with either indigenous clay soil excavated from your yard or organic soil can be purchased at a materials company, or a local garden center. Use the same method above; cardboard or newspaper as initial base, then mulch material, then soil and repeat the process until beds are filled, keep moist not wet. Like a wrung out wash cloth is ideal.
How to build soil the conventional way:
Till the area you wish to plant, compost all your mulch materials in a compost bin or pile, they will take several weeks to decompose depending on air flow and moisture content. Again keep the pile moist, not too wet. When your mulch material smells like earth, is dark and it is finely composted till into your garden site. Create rows and plant.
Food For Thought- Did you know that GMO alfalfa, alfalfa meal and soybean meal is NOT PROHIBITED under the NOP?
Another interesting point is that, both bone meal and blood meal are also allowed under the NOP, even from NON-ORGANIC animals.
Organic farmers need to be careful with the materials they choose to compost for this reason.
Know your farmer, know your food!
We have been so busy this summer on the farm, that I haven't had a chance to write about whats going on. Well it is breeding season for one, and there is love in the air for our 4 legged goat family! Ha! I prefer to let them have their dates in the Month of October, so that we have babies in Spring, BUT sometimes this planning does not always work out. One of our Does decided that she really wanted to be the first to have her kids, so I decided to allow the date in a controlled environment. This makes a huge difference if you are wanting to know within a few days of when your Doe is expected to kid. I have always done planned breeding's so that I can keep track of when a Doe will kid and have a birthing area and emergency kit handy in case the Doe and/or kid/s, needs assistance. Keeping good records is an important part of a sustainable farm and not just limited to the stock, but also any other things produced on the farm. Good records are also imperative to the registering of your animals with livestock registries, and if you don't decide to register them, good record keeping will prevent inbreeding when selling unregistered stock to other farms. It takes effort, but it is well worth it in my opinion. The good news is that it does slow down a bit in the late fall and winter. As a person whom has lived and worked on a farm my entire life, I must say that my goal has always been to grow food and raise livestock with the seasons. It makes perfect sense to me that bucks go into the rut in the fall and kids are born in the spring. There are less insects in the cool spring weather, the parasite population is at its lowest in cool weather and the animals have the most stored fat and thicker coats in the winter months to protect themselves. I love goats, both dairy breeds and meat breeds. Goats are a pleasure to be around, they are curious, smart and friendly. They are the perfect homestead animal to have on a small or large farm. We are super excited to have babies again. We hope to be making cheese for our family next summer and making our wonderful goats milk soaps!. We still have lots of handmade soaps that I made from my herd of Nubian goats in AZ for ourselves that I brought with us when we moved, but our inventory is dwindling. We should have just enough bars to last until I can whip up some more! Nothing better than making and using your own products on a sustainable farm.
I first learned about making compost teas, foliar sprays and compost activators from a dear friend and garden mentor many years ago. After getting the hang of making simple recipes and experimenting with controls, using it on one bed and not using it on another bed of the same plant species, I became fascinated with the results! I was hooked on this somewhat new idea of increasing soil microbes and improving soil biology with activated aerated compost tea, (AACT).
First lets explain what compost tea is and how we can easily make it at home.
Compost tea is "liquid gold", a mild and organic fertilizer that will not burn plants.
It is made by taking aerated compost or worm castings and placing it in a sock (panty hose, paint strainer, etc..) suspended in a 5 gallon bucket of water with a air bubble pump to aerate, supply oxygen for microbial growth. You add feed to the water such as molasses, fish hydrolysate, humic acid, cane sugar, etc.. to feed and multiply the microbes that live in the compost or vermicompost (worm casting).
It is extremely important to aerate, supply oxygen to your AACT, all living organisms need oxygen to survive. If your tea does not get enough oxygen it becomes anaerobic and the BAD bacteria will multiply, which can cause, e.coli, root eating nematodes and disease boring organisms. It is also important to know which compost to use in your tea recipe. This will depend on whether you want to use the AACT on vegetables, fruit trees, conifers, etc..
Here is a short list;
Evergreen Trees- Highly Fungal
Deciduous Trees- Semi-Fungal
Most Vegetables- Bacterial
Brassicas- Very Bacterial
Fruits and Berries- Balanced fungal to Bacterial
The compost you choose will be the most important factor in determining whether you are making a bacterial-dominate tea, or a fungal-dominate tea.
Each type of compost are determined by their initial ingredients. Bacterial-dominated compost begins with materials that have a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N); whereas, fungal-dominated compost begins with materials that have a higher C:N.
Basically your main ingredient for a fungal AACT would be more woody materials, and the main ingredient for a bacterial AACT would contain more nitrogen, such as composted manures.
The food you feed your microbes is very important to maximize the micro-biology. Too much food can cause your AACT to go anaerobic. Too little will not allow the microes to replicate and multiply. There are tons of recipes out there. The good news is that if you end up putting a bacterial tea on a fungal loving plant, it wont hurt it, it just wont get the benefits it would have from a fungal tea.
A couple of recipes below;
Bacterial- Dominated Tea
1.5 pounds of bacterial-dominated compost (FRESH worm castings work well too)
1 Tablespoon of Maple Syrup or Cane Sugar
1 ounce of Fish Emulsion
2 Pounds of Fungal-dominated compost
(Add 1/2 Cup of Bran Flour or Steel cut oats to improve fungi)
1 Tablespoon of Fish Hydrolysate (dilute to neutralize the acid, according to the label)
1 Ounce of liquid sea kelp
Directions; Fill a 5 Gallon bucket with un-chlorinated water. Place the compost in a paint strainer. Get a stick and suspend the strainer in the center of the bucket, so that it does not touch the sides or bottom of the bucket. (see photo above) Dilute the fish emulsion or liquid kelp in a 1/2 cup of water, then add to the water and mix thoroughly. Place your air tubing on your air pump and place the tubing in the bucket of water, plug in the air bubbling machine and check for good aeration. Let the AACT brew for a minimum of 8 hours, the tea can be brewed up to 24 hours. As a matter of fact, some will say a brew can go for 36 hours. I have had great results with 16 hour brews. When your tea is done it can be used as a soil drench, foliar spray, and even a compost activator. I use all of the AACT tea water on my soil and plants and put the compost remains back into my original compost pile.
Thank for reading!
This is an improved design for a permanent sow farrowing shelter. We built this using scrap wood, the only things purchased were the metal for the roof which cost around $50.00 purchased as imperfections which saved a few dollars and the 4- 4x4 treated posts for the corners. If someone were to purchase the wood, it would cost around $72.00, which would include the nails and lag bolts used to secure the 2x6 boards on the bottom so that the sows can't pop them off rubbing against them. The improvement I speak of is on the bottom. Our previously built shelters on our other farm had straight closed sides, and on occasion we would have a sow lay on a piglet accidentally, because the piglets couldn't get out of the way of "BIG MAMA", so this time we thought about what we could do to improve this issue for future piglets. The new farrowing shed has 2x6's that will be removed and a 3 sided 30 " tall box with a hinged metal roof can be attached, so that the piglets can get into a safe space. It will have a heat source and the hinged roof will allow us to access the piglets to dip navels in iodine and care for them without stressing the sow out.
Commercial industry and some smaller farms use farrowing crates, photo below,
I personally DO NOT like these, I think they are cruel to the sow, they can only stand, sit or lie down. They are not even able to turn around. I do however understand that for the commercial grower it is about making a profit and therefore they are used to prevent the sows from lying on the litter and therefore a loss of profit. Up to 20% of pigs lost are due to them being crushed by the sow. My goal is to keep the piglets alive too, but with the use of a more natural rearing of the piglets and allowing the sow to move freely. The farrowing shelter above has an allowance of 6-8" between the bottom board and the ground on all sides, this should help tremendously allowing piglets to move out of the way.
We have only been on our new farm for
approximately 5 months now, we have accomplished quite a lot in this short amount of time! We purchased some laying Buff chicks, two out of the lot ended up being roosters, not too bad. One will be re-homed.
We built a chicken house back in late June.
The chickens were temporarily contained until we finished the parameter fencing. They are FREE now!
These laying birds will live up on this end of the property permanently to cruise under our heritage apple tree orchard that is being planted in the month March 2017. We have a heritage winesap apple tree that we are working to preserve with both seed and grafting.
Happy free roaming Chickens!
We will be adding 25 mixed laying breed chicks (my list of breeds is in an earlier blog) in early Spring that will go down in the bottom pasture to free roam for both insect control and egg production.
I am encouraging the growth of fungi, microbes, protozoa and tons more healthy bacteria in my compost piles! I have been diligently working on my no till beds and market garden fields.
The semi-dwarf Peach trees were planted in late June, they have done exceptionally well and have grown A LOT since planted!
My mulch piles are looking very healthy!
The dairy goat permanent fencing for rotational grazing is in place and they have been rotated 3 times already! They have constant, clean pasture and housing. I am growing fodder for all of the livestock and chickens this winter, it is packed full of nutrients that they really enjoy through the winter months along with their free grazing.
I am currently working on the NO-TILL market garden field, building soil for Spring.
Around 700 gourmet garlic bulbs have been planted for the 2017 harvest! I was a little late getting them in, but they should do fine. We are almost finished with the main cabin remodel. The guest cabin was completed. More photos and posts coming soon!
O.K., you can't live in the South and not eat biscuits!!! Here is a healthy (not)! biscuit recipe with a twist~ organic ingredients...
BTW, I LOVE these biscuits!!
Super easy and deliciously healthier biscuits
Experiment with whole grains too!
1 1/2 Cups Organic self-rising flour
3/4 Cups Organic Milk
2 Heaping Tbsp. Organic Mayonnaise
pinch of Sea Salt to taste
Mix and drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake at 450 Degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden! YUMMY!!
Here at Orchard Creek farm we implement permaculture design for a healthy and balanced ecosystem. To achieve our goals of healthy, balanced soils our hand tool of choice for our no-till farm is the broadfork. This tool is a hand tool used to break up and aerate the top soil without turning it under. A rototiller for example destroys the beneficial microbes and living organisms by tearing up and turning the soil over with blades. These organisms live with, in and between the soil particles. The pH balance, moisture content and soil pore size create different habitats for these living organisms, known as the "soil food web". This "soil food web" is made up of a multitude of living organisms; earthworms, bacteria, fungi, arthropods, nematodes and protozoa. Basically all soil life that can be eaten and broken down, makes up the "soil food web" cycle.
One of the best known good fungi for example is Mycorrhizae . We encourage the healthy growth of mycorrhizae. The broadfork is an excellent tool to use that will not destroy what we are trying to maintain, it also helps to suppress weed seeds that lay dormant under the soil, when rototilled these weed seeds come to the surface, a broadfork will keep the majority of the weed seeds dormant by not allowing them to come to the surface.
The broadfork uses your body to operate, and it is a workout like no other! I personally would much rather have the broadfork body workout and save my living soil than get vibrated to death and destroy my living soil with a machine.
Furthermore we spend no money for fuel or machine maintenance, which is another sustainable plus.
To maximize the roots and health of your plants and trees the soil needs to be aerated for nutrient and water penetration.
We can't wait till Spring to use the mighty broadfork again!.