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May 2006: Agricultural Notes

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            We received this information from BASIL (Bay Area Seed Interchange Library): “BASIL is committed to facilitating the promotion of back yard seed saving and enabling the sharing of local and rare varieties of garden seed. We do this mainly through our free library at the Ecology Center where gardeners are welcome to ‘borrow’ seed to grow out and return. We also network with gardeners and seed growers to promote responsibility for maintaining seed crops while adapting them locally. We improve consciousness and successful seed saving through classes, seed swaps, school garden programs and a resource library. We are looking for seed donations to expand and bring more variety to our library. Donations can be sent to: BASIL c/o Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley CA 94702.”

            This information was included in the fourth quarter report from Manor House Agricultural Centre: Napier grass to feed the Centre’s cattle is now grown using the Tumbukiza method. The grass is planted in a 2x2x2 foot hole, not filled to ground level so as to conserve water for a longer time. Experiments by Manor House students determined that it takes about 5 holes to feed each of the cattle using the zero grazing method.

This was taken from a report, “Agricultural Biotechnology: FAO Director General’s May 17, 2004 Declaration a Slap in the Face of the African Small Scale Farmer,” by Jack Wafula of Kenya, formerly an Ecology Action intern.
In 2001 KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) developed a virus-resistant sweet potato, using US biotechnology. But a report 3 years later “Indicates that during the trials non-transgenic crops used as control yielded much more tuber compared to the transgenics. All lines tested were susceptible to viral attacks.” And the transgenics “did not address the crop’s major problem: weevils.” As for Round-up Ready: “Glyphosate, as it appears more and more certain, while killing the weeds, also unexpectedly advances fusarium head blight, a devastating fungal disease that damages grains and turns it pink.” Jack concludes: “Poor farmers have to be encouraged to grow sustainably by recycling compost crops … saving their own heritage seeds, and sourcing for market information and credit facilities instead of falling prey to the gimmicks of GMOs!”

This information comes from the January 2006 issue of HortIdeas: “In a three-year trial conducted at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station at New Haven, carrots and beets were grown using leaf compost at the rate of one inch, 0.5 inch or 0.2 inch. All plots also received NPK fertilizer. Carrot yields that had received “0.2 or 0.5 inches of compost resulted in 6-26% higher yields than with no compost, while adding one inch of compost resulted in 7-46% higher yields. And the average numbers of carrots per foot were greater. For beets, “adding compost increased yields by 29% in the first year, 58% in the second year, and 149% in the third year. Average numbers of beets per foot of row were greater in almost all cases.”

From “Onion success requires planning and research in the October 2005 issue of Growing for Market: “Onions prefer a loamy, well drained soil with pH of 6.0 to 6.5. They are very sensitive to drainage. Wet soils promote most of the diseases that plague the crop. They are also harder to grow in heavier clay soils. Clay soils tend to have greater sulphur concentrations and too much sulphur causes them to be less sweet. … Onions are heavy feeders and shallow rooted. They may need as much as 145 pounds of nitrogen per acre. But, not all at one time. … Utilizing fertility that counts on humus and soil microbes gives the grower those smaller “shots” of fertility over the whole growing season. But if your soil program still isn’t where you want it to be, side dressing onions once or twice can make a real difference in your yield. … Many commercial onions are grown from transplants. One of the big reasons for this is to get a jump on weeds. Onions are poor competitors with weeds. Grasses, in particular can outgrow onion seedlings very quickly.”
The article also contains a lot of information about varieties for different latitudes, more about transplants and sets, and onion problems.

This is a very brief selection from “Winter greenhouse crops depend on light as much as temperature” by John Biernbaum in the November 2005 issue of Growing for Market: “There are four key aspects to the winter harvest. The first is the use of cold tolerant crops that can handle repeated freezing and thawing. Examples include spinach, chard, kale and many leafy greens as well as root crops like carrot and beets. The second is that the crops must be planted and grown early enough in the fall season so that the majority of development has occurred before light and temperature conditions are too low for a reasonable rate of growth. … A third important factor is the use of crops that allow for multiple harvests either by removing outer, larger leaves at regular intervals or by cutting the entire plant back to within an inch or so above the soil so the growing point still remains. These leafy crops are able to regrow during the lower light and temperature winter conditions. The fourth factor is the protection of the crop by a greenhouse and internal layers of polyethylene or fabric.”

This is a quote from The Curious Cook by Harold McGee, published in 1990 by the North Point Press: “Like dry beans, the Jerusalem artichoke contains indigestible carbohydrates that can cause flatulence and discomfort. The quantity of these carbohydrates is somewhat reduced during cold storage, a month or more in the cold ground or in the refrigerator. About half of the remaining indigestibles can be removed by boiling the sliced tubers in a large volume of water for 15 minutes. A larger proportion can be broken down to the sugar fructose by cooking the whole tubers for 24 hours. It’s best to make raw or quickly cooked Jerusalem artichokes a distinctly minor part of a meal.”

This information comes from “A home-grown solution to African hunger by Abraham McLaughlin in the February 1, 2006 issue of The Christian Science Monitor:
In Malawi, Africa, a former accountant with no agricultural training has created a healthy 50-acre farm of corn, sugar cane and mangoes. “Using just hoes and shovels, he’s built an elaborate gravity-driven irrigation system of earthen berms and inch-deep trenches. It’s revolutionary in a country where just 2 percent of farmers’ land is irrigated—despite the close proximity of a lake larger than Lake Erie in the US.” He uses no chemicals on his farm. “Most of his plants are covered with a layer of farm waste—half-decayed leaves and roots. Nor does his farm need all that much water from the nearby river. Each plot is sunk two feet below ground level, so roots are closer to the water table—and rainwater soaks in, rather than washing away. His irrigation system is a four-tiered network of berms that gets its water from the river. Each channel is the width of a hoe. By simply moving a clod of dirt here and there, [the farmer] directs water to thirsty plants.”



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