Tag Archives: sustainable agriculture

5 Free Shows on Gardening, Food, & Farming

Gardening may be as good as therapy but sometimes we all need to kick back and enjoy a little screen time. While Game of Thrones may be really exciting, next time you’re in the mood for a Netflix binge consider one of these five documentaries. They’re all free to watch and shed light on gardening, food, and farming.

Living Soil Film

This documentary, produced by the Soil Health Institute, discusses the problems with humans’ relationship with soil. It introduces staggering statistics like, “the societal and environmental costs of soil loss and degradation in the United States alone are now estimated to be as high as $85 billion every single year” and provides methods for more sustainable farming. It features innovative farmers and soil experts from across the United States. Learn more about soil and how you can keep your garden’s soil healthy.

Tales from the Green Valley

Though not a documentary this TV show created by the BBC as part of a historic farming series is an informative look at agricultural techniques of the past. The show follows historians Ruth Goodman and Stuart Peachy as well as archeologists Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn, and Chloe Spencer as they run a historical farm just the way it would have been in the 17th century for a full calendar year. Try an episode (or twelve!) for a glimpse of history through the lens of everyday life.

Unbroken Ground 

Created by Patagonia Provisions, this short documentary discusses the role of agriculture in our current environmental crisis. It takes an inspirational look at folks who are trying to change the way we produce food and protect our lands and waters. Join the food revolution with this informative film.

Treasures of New York: The New York Botanical Garden

This PBS special explores the 250 acre New York Botanical Garden. A “museum of plants,” the New York Botanical Garden is home to over million plants and operates one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programs. Get inspired as you follow along on a tour of this amazing garden.

Stone Age Stories: First Farmers

This documentary focuses in on archeological evidence that Stone Age peoples began gathering and growing grains. It attempts to explain their transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers. It also looks at the beginning of permanent settlements, animal domestication, and metal working. Check it out to learn more about agriculture’s profound effect on civilization.

Next time you’re having a family movie night or just want to relax on a rainy afternoon try one of these documentaries. They might change your ideas about food and farming! 

Pin it for later.

Planning a Fruit Tree Guild

For those who aren’t familiar a fruit tree guild is a permaculture method of planting a fruit tree in combination with other plants that will grow together to create a mini ecosystem around the tree. While there hasn’t been a lot of scientific study of tree guilds they do show a lot of potential. Research has shown that intercropping (planting more than one species together) can be a valuable tool for increasing yields and crop health. Plus, tree guilds, in stark contrast with monoculture orchards are space saving and great for wildlife.

Selecting Plants

The first step is to research the type of tree you’d like to start with. For an example I’ll be talking about a peach tree guild but you can use any type of tree whether it’s an existing tree on your property or one you’d like to plant this spring. The important part is that you do some research into the tree such as its growth pattern and mature size. Also consider what soil types it prefers, where you’ll be planting it, and if it’s prone to any disease or pest problems.

Based on your research you’ll select companion plants. Tree guilds are typically made up of six categories: suppressors, attractors, repellers, mulchers, accumulators, and fixers though there are variations and there’s no rule that you have to plant all of these or can’t plant more than one species from each category. If you see a need you can even make up your own category!

If you’re planting a particularly tall tree or working with a mature tree you can include perennial shrubs on your plant list. Just be careful with smaller, newer trees that they don’t compete for light.

Suppressors

These are plants that suppress weed growth through there own growth habits. Good examples include vining winter squash which shades out weeds, mint or buckwheat which outcompete weeds through rapid, thick growth, or strawberries, pennyroyal, or thyme whose vines form a thick mat of ground cover. For a peach tree guild I would choose strawberries partially because I enjoy eating them but also because they’re an excellent suppressor and their early flowers draw in pollinators.

Attractors

Mona’s Orange Cosmos

Attractors are plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insect to the tree. Examples include yarrow, buckwheat, butterfly weed, and mustards. Many other species can also be used but it’s important to find something that will work well for your chosen tree. For a peach tree guild I would choose to plant cosmos as they attract trichogramma wasps which are a helpful beneficial insect and a natural enemy of oriental fruit moths which can severely damage peach trees.

Repellers

These plants job is to repel unwanted pests from feeding on your fruit tree. Lemon grass, marigolds, lemon balm, and almost any allium like garlic, chives, or perennial onions are all commonly used to repel pests. Knowing your specific tree’s common pest issues will allow you to best select a variety. For the peach tree example I’d use garlic as there’s some evidence that planting garlic around peach trees helps repel peach tree borers.

Fixers

Red Clover

Fixers refers to plants that are nitrogen fixing meaning that they add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. Great examples of these plants include white clover, red clover, beans, alfalfa, lupine, and peas. For a peach tree guild I would choose red clover. It attracts pollinators, beneficial insects including trichogramma wasps, and makes a wonderful tea.

Mulchers

Probably the most commonly used mulcher plant in permaculture designs is comfrey. It’s hardy, perennial, easy to care for, and its leaves do in fact make excellent mulch. Hostas have the same benefits. You can also use annual cover crops like buckwheat that winter kill and provide good mulch. Buckwheat also has the added benefit of self seeding. For this example comfrey will be used because it doubles as an accumulator.

Accumulators

These are plants that “mine” nutrients from deep in the soil and bring the to the surface where other plants will be able to access them. Good examples include alfalfa, comfrey, borage, and chicory. For more ideas look at deep rooted perennial plants. For my peach tree guild I would opt for chicory as it offers medicinal benefits for both humans and livestock.

 

Once you’ve got all your plants you can begin planting. Obviously it’s easiest to start with the tree and work your way out. You should consider how much space it will need and shade it will create as it grows when selecting locations for other perennials.

Utilizing this permaculture method can help you make the most out of your orchard space by incorporating other edible, medicinal, or flowering crops into your design and keeping your trees healthy and productive. It can also make your space more habitable for beneficial wildlife like birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects which lose habitat when space between trees is mowed. Lastly it may even help reduce erosion when compared to traditional orchard set ups. What’s there to lose?

 

Pin it for later.

Fall Cover Crops & Their Importance

Fall is actually one of the best times for backyard gardeners to work on improving their soil health. Without a lot of effort gardeners can improve the soils through the fall, winter, and early spring for a better gardening season next year through the use of cover crops. Cover crops are not just for large farms and have a variety of benefits.

Benefits

Reduce Erosion

First off, using a winter cover crop is extremely important in resducing erosion. When there’s nothing growing in the soil in fall, winter, and early spring any rain or melt water can erode valuable soil and nutrients and pollute the local water system. Too many nutrients in the lakes, streams, and river can cause algae blooms that can be dangerous to both people and aquatic life.

Add Organic Matter

As cover crops die or are tilled into the soil they add organic matter which is key to soil health! It gives the soil structure, retains moisture, provides habitat and food for beneficial insects and microbes, and adds nutrients to the soil as it slowly breaks down. If not tilled in the pant material also functions as a mulch to continue to suppress weeds, preserve moisture, and reduce ersosion.

Conserve Moisture

In the same way that open soil is vunerable to ersion it’s also vunerable to evaporation.  Cover crops prevent sun and wind from drying out the soil and hold rainwater.

Some Fix Nitrogen

Any cover crop variety that is a legume actually adds nitrogen to the soil as it grows in addition to the nutrients it provides when it dies or is tilled under. Some examples SESE carries will be given below.

Suppress Weeds

Cover crops also help to suppress weeds. Most cover crops are quick growing and vigorous allowing them to outcompete and knock back weeds.

Help Pollinators

Often your fall cover crops will be one of the first plants blooming in the spring, a critical time for pollinators. Planting in the fall gives you and them a jump start. They’re provided a reliable food source early helping you ensure reliable pollination throughout the growing season.

Fall Cover Crop Varieties

Southern Exposure offers a variety of cover crops suitable for fall planting.

Hairy Vetch

Hairy Vetch is both beautiful and useful. Bees and other pollinators love its purple flowers. It’s also a nitrogen fixing legume. Sow August 1st – November 1st.

Hairy Vetch Seed

Austrian Winter Peas

This awesome crop can be grown through the winter in zones 6 and up. It’s nitrogen fixing and edible! Sow August 15th – November 1st.

Austrian Winter Pea Seed

Buckwheat

Buckwheat isn’t really a winter cover crop becuase it’s what is called a “winter-kill crop” meaning that it dies back with the fall frosts. However it’s great for planting in the fall with a mix of clover because it provides clover shade and cool soil until it dies allowing th clover to take off. It can be planted in the spring up until 1 month before the last fall frost.

Buckwheat Seed

Crimson Clover

This nitrogen fixer does best where winter temperatures don’t dip below 10°F. It has longer blooms than traditional red clover. Sow from mid-July through mid-September.

Crimson Clover Seed

Red Clover

Red clover has a lot going for it. It’s well loved by pollinators, fixes nitrogen, is great for weed supression and makes a wonderful, medicinal tea. Sow in spring or fall.

Red Clover Seed

White Dutch Clover

Like the other clovers White Dutch is excellent for nitrogen and supressing weeds. Sow in late winter, spring, late summer, or fall.

White Dutch Clover Seed

Hulless Oats

Hulless Oats make an excellent cover crop for adding a lot of organic material. It should be noted that they will winter kill in areas where the temperature drop below 10°F. Oatstraw stems can be harvested for tea. Sow in later summer for a winter cover crop.

Hulless Oats Seed

Common Winter Rye

While Winter Rye is not nitrogen fixing it’s still an excellent cover crop. It can actually help stabilize excess nitrogen and releases phosphorus and potassium from the soil for plants to use. It’s extensive root system makes it excellent for improving soil structure. It’s also vigorous and great for weed supression, erosion reduction, moisture conservation, and adds tons of organic material to the soil. Sow August 1st – November 15th.

Common Winter Rye Seed

 

Just because the gardening season is coming to a close doesn’t mean there’s not still planting to be done. If you want a healthy productive garden next year it’s definitely worth the effort to plant a cover crop this fall!