Mulch. Mulching. Mulches.

 

Hello Fellow Farmers and Gardeners, 

Today we will be discussing the benefits of using mulch in your garden, how we have utilized mulch in the Bounty Garden, and different types of mulch. Mulch is a surface covering intended to improve soil texture and provide nutrients. A few key components of good organic mulch include (but are not limited to):

  • Protecting soil integrity
  • Decreasing erosion
  • Improving drainage
  • Subduing weed growth
  • Providing aeration
  • Using mulch that does not contain weed seeds or fungal pathogens

As a plant positive practice that gives each plant room to grow, mulch is one of the best resources for an organic farmer to incorporate in their vegetable garden!

Straw v. Hay

It is a common misconception that the words “straw” and “hay” can be used interchangeably, despite the fact that they have distinctly different purposes. To clarify, straw typically derives from cereal grain plants, such as wheat, barley, and oats. Straw is the dry plant matter that remains after the seeds (or grains) have been harvested. Hay, on the other hand, is grown intentionally for animal feed; it is chopped before the plant goes to seed, dried, and stored. Some examples of high protein grasses used for hay include alfalfa, timothy, and sudangrass.

Why We Use Straw For Mulch

In the Bounty Garden, we have utilized straw mulch from grass clippings that we mowed in the field and let dry for a few days. The mulch was carefully placed in a “donut hole” shape around each plant in field 4, which is pictured below.

Straw is a wonderful mulch because it keeps the soil warm and protects the plants from weeds and potential infections. If you want to buy straw for your organic garden, make sure you purchase it from a reputable source, if you do not decide to make your own. This is crucial for ensuring that the straw does not contain any remaining weeds seeds and has not been contaminated with harsh chemicals. Straw not only strengthens the immune system of your garden, but it also makes it look aesthetically pleasing!

Additional Sources of Mulch

Aside from straw, there are many different types of organic matter that may be used to improve the overall quality of your soil. Other types of mulch may include, but are not limited to:

  • Pine needles
  • Farmyard manure
  • Cardboard
  • Peat
  • Garden compost
  • Wood chips

There are few other considerations to take into account when applying mulch. Keep layers of mulch no more than 1 inch thick to allow the diffusion of organic matter in the soil. Restrict contact between damp, decaying mulch and your plants to prevent rot. Give mulched areas a good soaking before cold weather to permit heat transfer from soil to air to avoid air frost. If the mulch source is quite high in carbon, the microorganisms will absorb nitrogen to balance the ration of nutrients, which may cause nitrogen depletion. Fear not! Alternative sources of nitrogen, such as compost tea, worm castings, comfrey tea, and seaweed extract, may serve as excellent top dressings to balance nutrient availability. Mulch is typically first applied in autumn, removed in the spring before sowing seeds, and reapplied when the plants begin to mature.
Well farmers, I know that was a lot of information to take in, but I hope it was helpful! Feel free to experiment with different types of mulch until you find the one that best suits the needs of your garden. Mulching is only one of the many organic practices that I have learned about while interning in the Bounty Garden over the last few months. I look forward to sharing my new-found insights with you, as the garden continues to share its bounties with us throughout the season. Enjoy every precious moment you have to reconnect with the earth! Happy mulching 🙂

Your Bounty Garden Intern, Simi Rodgers


Sources:

http://knowledgenuts.com/2013/12/11/the-difference-between-straw-and-hay/

http://www.the-organic-gardener.com/organic-mulch.html

http://www.usaforage.org/products/straw-vs-hay/

http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cereal-grains

New Field. Field 10.

Field 10

In today’s blog, I would like to feature a new plot we started this season. It’s called Field 10. The spring management class started working on Field 10 as soon as we could. Starting in April, we used our BCS tiller for the primary tillage and continued to work the ground as the weather permitted. It took lots of hands to remove rocks, weeds, and rotate the soil to prep. Our goals were to have it measured and planted for early season crops.

Field 10 is located on the northwest side of the garden with a southern slope.   Partial shade covers the plants in the morning but afternoon sun is strong and keeps us growing. The width is 65 feet and the length around 30 feet. We have six rows that measure 30 inches each, with a 12-inch space in between. Then a 3-foot barrier next to the fence line was added for easy access and lined with thick landscape fabric. The fence is a four-foot-high chicken wire that was dug into a trench for stabilization and to keep critters from digging underneath. Once it was measured out it really started to take shape.

The first row consists of Asparagus, which will come up every year. Then we started with planting the other end of field with Kale, that was covered with paper mulch that we cut with holes for our crop. Down that same row we planted more Kale and Kohlrabi. The second row has flowering broccoli and cauliflower. The third row has red and green cabbage. The fourth row started a second planting of Kale then more red cabbage. The last and closest row to the asparagus was planted with Napa Cabbage, Kohlrabi, and Fennel.

So far, we have had some pest damage from deer and the cabbage looper. We will be using VHS tape around the fence to make noise to scare our deer. There will also be an additional trellis on the fence to try to keep them out.   Some deterrents for the looper can include botanical and citrus oils, sprinkle leaves with cornmeal or rye flour, or purchase resistant varieties. They can also be handpicked most will hide on the underside of the leaves along the leaf veins. Make sure to crush any yellow bullet shaped eggs found on the leaves. As always try organic methods and be proactive with diagnostics.

Happy farming and don’t forget to take the time to enjoy your space.

By Alissa Lick-  2017 NWTC Bounty Garden Intern

Field 10 2

2017 at NWTC’s Bounty Garden

leek

The season is off to a fast a furious beginning… lucky with the weather and great and engaged students learning as we plan, prep and implement our small-farm production. This year we will be offering 15 half-CSA shares to Northeast WI Technical College- Green Bay’s staff and faculty. Last year we had great support from the staff. Some CSA members got involved because they wanted to support the Sustainable Food and Ag Systems program and internship. Others joined to have access to our great produce.

We are also building a mobile Farm Stand, to sell fresh harvested goods on-site and will be setting up a weekly farmers market inside NWTC’s Commons throughout the growing season. This opportunity gives our interns the chance to understand the logistics and marketing that are involved to run a successful market and CSA program.

Our blog gives a voice to the many  to the students in our program and beginning farmer interns of Bounty Garden. Follow us throughout the 2017 season!

By: Amanda Chu, Bounty Garden Manager

NWTC Bounty Garden-side by side

 

A Small Farmers Best Friend

In this post, I’d like to talk about what I found to be the best tool for the work I’ve done this summer, but first I’m going to tell you about all of the things that I found second best because that’s how you organize an article on the internet.

So it wasn’t..
The BCS Walk-behind Tractor
Not that our whirring Italian workhorse wasn’t a great asset, but after the ground had it’s tilling, it was pulled out for the occasional mowing job but otherwise just said there. Great if we were a landscaping company, but an organic garden that roaring engine did not build.

Nor was it
The Jang Seeder
This nifty little thing came all the way from Korea. With lots of different attachments and mechanical settings, the only thing we probably couldn’t have seeded with it was the peanuts. That being said, we started more than half of our produce in starting trays in a greenhouse, so I hardly even touched the thing.

And it wasn’t
A Wide Variety of Hoes & Hand Tools
From the Traditional backhoe, its triangular brother, the speedy scuffle hoe, the weird diamond shaped shaving hoe, their weird cousin the broadfork, a slightly dull Hmong machete, and some classic farmers tools like pitchforks and spades and shovels. While all of these are pretty good for moving around dirt, and flipping compost, making holes and removing great swaths of weeds from existence, they alone could not a bountiful garden make.

It certainly wasn’t…
Tarping and Mulching
While they are good for keeping weed pressure down initially, or at least tarping is, you eventually have to peel it back. And it might look like a nice bit of weed free dirt, but in just a couple of days they will be back. And shame on the person who thought it would be okay to put paper tarping in an area that is watered from overhead.

Could it be..
Gloves
No, but that’s actually second on the list. A good pair of gloves are a lifesaver in this business. Digging in the dirt for several hours and then washing it off drys out the skin a lot more than I thought it could, to the point that my fingers were bleeding because the skin was simply peeling back. That, and dealing with thistles. Why are they so hard to get rid of? But even a masterwork pair of gloves won’t make you a successful small farmer.

What is it then, you’re probably wondering. Could it be..

A Weed Whacker or Flame Weeder? The Gator golfcart/flatbed truck hybrid? A Good Varmint Trap? Proper Planning? Decent Soil and Amendments? A Knowledgeable Teacher? A Sizeable and Willing Workforce? Raised Beds and Trellising?

All of these things certainly can help, but no, none of them will make you. No, my ‘best farming friend’ would happen to be…

A Willingness to Turn Otherwise Unpleasant Events Into a Worthwhile Experience

Because the fact of it is that no matter the tools you have to make it easier, farming is hard work. You’re going to get hot, tired, sweaty, full of dirt and stranger things, crawled on by bugs, and walk away with strange smells and flavors stuck in  your mouth. You could spend millions on real fancy equipment, but if you don’t like gettin’ down an dirty, well, you’re just wasting your time with this endeavor.  Might not happen right away, but if you really want to be doing this, then you’ll figure out ways of learning to enjoy the situation, or at least find something of value. Once you do that, the rest is the fun part.

Hope you found my tip helpful.

By: Dillon Weist, Bounty Garden Intern AKA Mister Nomer

Bees A-Buzzin’

Buzy bee’zzz

The bee’s were busy Wednesday morning as I was doing my walk around to see what could be picked for CSA members. I have seen multiple bees (honey bees and bumble bees) buzzing away at the zucchini and squash blossoms, which all need to be cross pollinated to make fruit.

BGpollinatingBLOG

By: Emily H., Bounty Garden Intern

The Ant

So it’s the end of July. The sun shines high in the sky and everything in my home garden is really beginning to ramp up. The first plants ready for picking were the raspberries, which line one side of our driveway. I remember one day about 2 weeks ago, in which my boyfriend and I marveled at the tiny white berries growing in thick clumps. A few days later, we noticed that the bush bean plants had thin, green strands where only dried flowers were the day before. We watched the daily growth in anticipation, our mouths watering as we talked about our favorite dishes, made fresh from the garden.

In just two short weeks, nearly all the raspberries are picked and we’re still picking daily, the longest and fattest beans for dinner. We didn’t grow enough beans for canning but that it just as well as I haven’t yet bought a new pressure canner. We have enough raspberries to get us thru the rest of the year, though, with the deep freezer in the basement filled with almost 15 pounds of frozen berries.

We’ve been eating steamed beets on our salads, both the beets and greens picked from our beds here at home. The corn is tasseling and just this evening, we picked the first of this season’s red, sunshiny tomatoes. Salad tonight will be perfect.

Out at the quarter acre farm that we are working, things are a bit different. We rented some land from a local farmer this past spring and we’ve growing on a scale that we are not used to. However, needing the experience, we jumped at the chance to grow big. We have over 100 tomato plants thriving, as well as melons, corn, beets and onions.

The pepper plants didn’t do too well as they took longer to adjust to the transplanting… and then some unknown insects ate many of the leaves, further setting them behind my harvest schedule. The curly-leaved kale is doing great but not so for the flat leaved kale. A colleague mentioned that his flat-leaved kale was also falling prey to insects and he blamed flea beetles.

Some other challenges we’ve encountered at the farm is the use of black plastic mulch. It works fantastic at suppressing weeds but it is just as lethal for the new transplants that were pushed beneath after a windy day. Left too long under the mulch, many of them died after baking in the sun.

Another challenge is keeping the grass suppressed between the rows of plants. But a few hours of the gas-powered trimmer and the BCS with sickle bar attachment get the job done.

The final challenge with the farm is finding buyers for the forthcoming produce. Two weeks ago, we picked almost 4 pounds of basil. We washed and bagged them and I brought them to sell at the farmer’s market. I sold 5 bags. But on the plus side—we now have enough pesto made and frozen to get us thru until next year! Obviously this isn’t going to work if I can’t find buyers for my other produce, so I’m looking into marketing ideas and consulting with buyers and a graphic designer for a company logo to help get signage for the market.

Everything is an experience. We continue to work and learn from our mistakes. It tough running a small farm while working full time, while also trying to enjoy time with friends and family. But in the end, I know it will be worth it. As my boyfriend teased the other day while I was in my third hour of pesto blending and the neighbors were outside having an impromptu block party, “Are you happy being the ant rather than the grasshopper?” Yes, I am.

By Scott Rosenberg, recent Graduate of NWTC’s Sustainable Food and Ag Systems program and new owner of Sweet Soil Market Garden, LLC

antANDgrass

Image courtesy of conicartfan.com

Planting Seeds of Love

Taking a break from the ever continuing physical, hectic pace of life, to begin this blog has been quite the effort. You would think slowing down would come easy, and a welcomed change. Taking the proverbial “deep breath” I sit, blank at my laptop…felling beat up from current circumstances. An ankle injury that is taking too long to heal, trying to repair water damage in the master bathroom, and fencing that needs to be repaired on my rural property, are all needing attention.

Kind of a jumbled formulation of thoughts began, and the theme of love began to persist. Why do we plant seeds in our gardens and fields? The first thought would be for an income, of course? For the average Farmer’s Market Gardener or family farm, the cultivation of vegetables and crops provide for our immediate family, which is an expression of love.

But then what about my fellow student gardeners at Bounty Garden of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College? Why do we plant, transplant from our green house, water, weed in a 2.5 acre plot, for an un-paid internship (other students have gone for hire for internships). Once again the thought of love reoccurs. Love for the community to provide quality organic food and educate through our Farmer’s Market Stand, Wednesday downtown Green Bay, WI. It would be much easier to just spray chemicals throughout the growing season. But then consider the ramifications.

Ground water contamination, and water way fishing severely impacted in our Brown County area from agricultural ventures not adhering to sustainable practices. A basic human drive is to pass to future generations, safer working and living conditions. Thus an extension of our love to future generations.

“What goes around, comes around,” and I believe this on a national level. The previous actions may be able to be observed in our local area and can have an immediate gratifying effect, intellectually but not always financially. Expanding on this concept, I type on.

“Out of sight, out of mind” comes into play on a global plane. As Gandhi has been quoted “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” The final thought is… we do what we do in Sustainable Agriculture because, we love our family, we love our community, we love our county, we love world citizens, and we love Mother Earth.

-2016 Bounty Garden Intern and student/master of life Teri Saray

How Bounty Garden Peanuts are Growing!

The first batches of Bounty Garden Peanuts were planted, April 18th 2016, and there already three inches high! We planted in a more sandy soil because we heard and did some research on planting peanuts and that’s what it says they like. We planted these peanuts about two peanuts lengths down. Another flat we did I went about three to four peanut lengths down and a few have started to poke through and those were planted April, 25 2016. Fingers crossed they keep growing like crazy!

Facts to know about growing peanuts

 

  • They like the soils PH to be 5.8-6.2
  • The soil temperature to be 65 degrees
  • Peanuts take 100-121 days before your able to harvest them

 

peanuts

 

~~Emily and Amber

Transplanting corn?! In a high tunnel?!?! WHAT?!

We are in Green Bay, WI and sometimes spring weather lasts too long for us to get two turns of corn, especially in our 2.5 acre. We have some early-mid season soggy patches that don’t get full day access to light so we are trying to creatively better utilize that 90’x40′ field. After some research, we came across a SARE grant project of a farmer in Vermont who had started sweet corn in 1020 flats of 72’s and 98’s, then transplanted the starts at the ideal row spacing.

Fascinating. Watch the video of Ben describing our process.

Our seeds germinated in 3 days and were transplanting in the HH, bc the field wasn’t ready to get worked up, at day 19 (April 18).

CornGerm.jpg

Germinated on Day 3

CornSpacing.jpg

Transplanted plants at 10″ apart, rows 18″ apart

By: Amanda Chu, Bounty Garden Manager