Who is growing food in the high desert? How can you find it? And how can you contribute to creating a vibrant local food community in Central Oregon? Find out here! By consuming more Central Oregon grown food we keep money in our region, support local businesses, and have delicious, fresh food to eat.
Chagfood Community Market Garden is a CSA supplying 80 shares a week from five acres, on the edge of a small town called Chagford on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park, in Devonshire, England. Chagfood has been running since 2010 when it was set up by Ed Hamer and his wife Yssy. Having been born and brought up in the National Park, Ed was aware that many of the traditional farming skills and knowledge of the area have been lost as farming has become more intensive. As a result he was keen to use working horses on the market garden from the very beginning, in an effort to keep the skills of working horsemanship alive for the next generation.
In 2004, a small group of direct-market farmers began collaborating with the co-owners of the local, independently-owned supermarket in Fairbury – Dave’s Supermarket – to initiate an “indoor farmers’ market” inside the grocery store. The farmers wanted to provide Fairbury residents with food grown locally and without pesticides, while finding viable markets for their farm products in their own community. The supermarket sees the sales of local produce from local farmers as a public relations tool to continue to draw in customers and help support their local farmers. The business arrangement between the store and farmers is simple: the farmers stock the shelves with their local products, and the store advertises and provides codes for the products to scan through the checkout lines.
As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.
Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.
Wednesday, April 16 – With the help from a friend who made the mistake of volunteering to help out this morning, we cut up 350 lbs. of seed potatoes and then handplanted the early crop of Dark Red Norlands, Kennebecs and Carolas in seven rows along the north side of field 6. This was the first time we had tried ridge-tilling potatoes and it worked slick, using basically the same procedure as we used for ridge-tilling the peas except making the planting furrow deeper.
An evolving diversity of markets has been essential to the survival of our small business. The marketing mix has changed dramatically over the years as a result of both Opportunity and Necessity. The constantly changing mix of crops on our farm also reflects the ongoing balancing act between our market niche, our growing niche, and our own personal preferences.
The first year we plowed up four acres of the old hayfields (corresponding to fields 1-8 on the map) and planted oats for the work horses. We also put out about a quarter-acre of medicinal herbs and vegetables to see what would grow well in our area. Digging quackgrass out of these trial crops on our hands and knees convinced us that we needed to use the summer fallow to deal with this perennial weed before committing to a larger acreage of produce.
The structural management of a clay soil is not such a simple problem as that of sandy one. In clays and similar soils of temperate regions the potential plasticity and cohesion are always high because of the presence of large amounts of colloidal clay. When such a soil is tilled when wet, its pore space becomes much reduced, it becomes practically impervious to air and water, and it is said to be puddled. When a soil in this condition dries, it usually becomes hard and dense. The tillage of clay soils must be carefully timed. If plowed too wet, the structural aggregates are broken down, and an unfavorable structure results. On the other hand, if plowed too dry, great clods are turned up which are difficult to work into a good seedbed.
One reason the no-till garlic may have been able to produce such a massive root system was due to the undisturbed soil being riddled with earthworm holes. Not wanting to destroy the beautiful soil structure created by the earthworms, we prepared the harvested garlic patch for planting a cover crop by fencing in our small flocks of laying hens to shred-and-spread the mulch of wheat straw in the no-till pathways. The birds also lightly tilled all this moisture conserving organic matter into the surface of the soil so a pass or two with the springtooth harrow was all that was necessary before seeding the winter cover of rye.
Over the last twenty plus years of intensive vegetable growing at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT, we have constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of our crops and soils. Much of the land grows vegetable crops year round so the intensity of production demands very careful soil care. Over the last several years a system was developed on the farm which has proven to be quite successful. The various methods are still being fine tuned; but with a high level of success and it seems appropriate to share what has been done.
Wow! Cultivating over 5-½ acres of market garden vegetables with a wheel hoe! We can’t help thinking that a good team of cultivating horses would just slow down the energetic farmers at the Sunflower Cooperative. We wish we had some of that sunflower power for quickly cultivating by hand Daniel’s wide ranging questions, especially the ones that open up new ground for this column, such as the topics of irrigation and seed varieties. Perhaps it won’t seem like such a long row for us to hoe if we begin by cultivating the more familiar territory of how the perennials and house gardens fit into the bio-extensive rotation.
Originally developed in the Midwest as an alternative to chemical no-till which aided soil warming and mechanical weed control, we adapted ridge-tillage to horsedrawn market garden production by attaching the rough equivalent of a ridge-till sweep to the middle of the riding cultivator. We initially used a cast-off roto-tiller middle buster found on the farm, then upgraded to a heavier duty customized 12” sweep, and finally settled on a 10” furrower purchased from Agri-Supply.
Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.
Many sustainable growers subscribe to the philosophy of “feed the soil, not the plant.” Our whole farm approach to weed management follows the same line of thinking – we call it, “weed the soil, not the crop.” Instead of relying on the cultivator or the hoe to save the crop from the weeds, we use cultural practices, including cover cropping, bare fallow periods, rotation and shallow tillage, to reduce the overall weed pressure in the soil. One result of this proactive strategy is we no longer depend on the cultivator or the hoe to grow certified organic produce. “Weeding the soil” has also enabled us to use reduced tillage and living mulches without compromising weed management.
She was a devoted cook and frequently told us the recipes she would use in her weekly meals. We saw her every week at the market and she was the kind of person that would tell us if she was going to be out of town and not be at the market the following week. We have a lot of customers like this, people we see every week that love our food and it becomes a serious reason for doing what we do. The feedback is generally very positive and in kind, rewarding on many levels.
We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.
A farm is never a static entity, a healthy farming system is something that grows and learns and builds upon itself with experience and time. Any successful farming system is ultimately the summation of an intelligent response of the farmers, eked out through years of trial and error, to the unique characteristics of their particular piece of ground. The farm cannot exist as a fixed point in time but only as the cumulative result of cyclical effort, exhaustion, and rejuvenation.
Market gardeners who already have an up and running tractor-powered operation and think they might want to explore transitioning to live horse power are often attracted to the idea of starting with a single horse. The single horse can also be a viable option for creating a mixed power system where the tractor is used for heavy tillage and the horse is used for secondary tillage, cultivation, and other light draft tasks around the farm. And for the complete beginner looking to get started in market gardening and working with horses, a single horse has a lot of appeal.
In a horse-powered market garden in the 1- to 10-acre range the moldboard plow can still serve us very well as one valuable component within a whole tool kit of tillage methods. In the market garden the plow is used principally to turn in crop residue or cover crops with the intention of preparing the ground to sow new seeds. In these instances, the plow is often the most effective tool the horse-powered farmer has on hand for beginning the process of creating a fine seed bed.
Within the context of the market garden, the principal aim for utilizing the moldboard is to initiate the process of creating a friable zone for the root systems of direct-seeded or transplanted cash crops to establish themselves in, where they will have sufficient access to all the plant nutrients, air, and moisture they require to bear successful fruits. To this end, it is critical for good plant growth to render the soil into a fine-textured crumbly condition and to ensure there is no compaction within the root zone.
from issue: 38-3
In this series of articles we are taking a look at how contemporary horse-powered farmers are making use of the moldboard plow, with an emphasis on the use of the moldboard as primary tillage in the market garden. In this installment we will hear “Reports from the Field” from two small farmers who favor the walking plow and a report from one farmer who farms tens of acres of forage crops and is decidedly in favor of the sulky. But first, we’ll dig into the SFJ archives to get a little perspective on the evolution of the manufacture of the walking plow from the late 19th century to the present.
No matter how well your team is matched to the size plow, they are going to have to put in some hard work to pull it through the ground. Plowing represents one of the heaviest exertions of draft power your horses will face in the course of working the market garden. Before you hitch your horses to the plow you will want to get them in shape with lighter tasks. Your horses will tell you if the draft of the plow is too much for them. Your experience of plowing will be immeasurably more satisfactory if your horses can pull the plow comfortably, without wanting to go too fast. If the team is walking too fast they are probably feeling the pull is too hard, as most horses will tend to turn up the throttle (before they balk) when they are feeling over-taxed by the load.
When you first start out trying to plow on the walking plow, if at all possible, start out with someone you trust on the lines and you working the plow handles. That way one person can school the horses to get them to understand what is being asked while you can focus entirely on learning how to steer the plow. Once the two of you and the team have got all that working reasonably well it won’t be such a big step to handle the horses and the plow by yourself.
Primary tillage is the first step in readying land for the reception of seeds or transplants. Just as the gardener breaks ground with a spade, and then breaks up clods with a hoe, and finally levels all with a rake, so does the farmer have a basic armory of tools to perform these functions on a larger scale in order to create a seed bed. Our primary tillage begins with the moldboard plow.
These days I call myself a farmer. However, I was not born into the farming life. In my late teens and early twenties, I began to have the creeping suspicion that my privileged upbringing in a first-world household, my secondary education and suburban lifestyle had left me completely bereft of any useful skills with regard to the fundamental situation of being a human animal on the planet. When I came of age I had this gnawing suspicion that in the first eighteen years of my existence on earth I had learned next to nothing of the kind of skills that would allow a person to survive in the natural world.
After plowing and then spreading the fields with compost, the next step in our method of primary tillage is to roll out the disc-harrows. The disc harrows have traditionally followed the plow because they do an excellent job of breaking up any clods and of further turning and incorporating any surface trash that might not have been fully turned by the moldboard. The weight of the disc also has a leveling effect on the soil in preparation for seeding.
A big focus of tillage for our dryland market garden is improving rainfall infiltration and moisture retention. Beginning with skim plowing in the early 80’s, we have added a half dozen shallow tillage practices to maintain moisture conserving residues in the top of the soil. Recently, we were introduced to an objective method for measuring and comparing these moisture preserving practices, thanks to joining the Soil Health Benchmark Study conducted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. One of the benchmarks for this research project, which includes over 60 vegetable, grain and dairy farms, is tillage intensity. This numerical index is based on the Soil Tillage Intensity Ratings developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.
As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.
Saralee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are Rainshadow Organics, a burgeoning, certified organic operation which fully embraces the tenets of mixed crop and livestock farming. At its core is a full-force market garden. The entire farm comprises one hundred and eighty acres situated in the magnificent, high desert region of central Oregon and subject to a painfully short growing season (some years just slightly over 2 months).
The photos are of our farm, located in Dorena, Oregon. We have about 35 acres and grow certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, and plants, which we sell at the Eugene / Lane Co. Farmer’s Market and in our community supported agriculture program. In any one-year, we have about 2 – 3 acres in intensive production, the rest in cover crops, pasture, wild lands, etc. Although we have and use a tractor, we are doing most of the work with Ruby and Amber, our beautiful and willing mares who are both patient and forgiving with us.
Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.
Used to be that farm cooking meant an eggs-and-bacon breakfast cooked by the wife before dawn, followed up with a meat-and-potatoes lunch and a hefty slice of pie. The archetypal farm wife was an accomplished cook who did simple, stick-to-your-ribs home cooking, fuel for the men who toiled 15-hour days in the fields. Today, everyone cooks and eats differently from a generation ago, including farmers. So we went back to the farm to take a peek in the kitchen.
The principle here, shared by both flowers and most vegetables, is that plants bloom and fruit to set seed to further their species. If this attempt is thwarted, it stimulates the plant to produce more flowers/vegetables. Whereas if it fully succeeds in seeding the next generation, then it has no drive to remain productive. Vegetables need to be picked regularly to remain productive. Not only does the plant need motivation to keep growing, but having over ripe vegetables promotes disease, spoilage and attracts insects. Let’s walk through the garden and talk about some of the vegetables and their unique needs. Most of this you’ll already know, but everyone likes to visit the garden this time of year. Especially for a watermelon.
While we visited the allotment, we all pitched in with a hoe or a trowel to remove some of the weeds, but we also took a little tour around the two-acre allotment site, sandwiched between a railway line and a sports field. I have always liked allotments; some people might see them as messy and untidy, with old pallets, wonky and fading sheds, plastic cups and food containers, wooden boxes, old CDs and other junk pressed into service to hold up netting, to shelter plants, collect water or scare the birds. But I like the variety and the fruitfulness, the ingenuity and attention, the money saving and the commitment, and I love the atmosphere of quiet and companionship as every allotment holder shapes their plot in the way they think fit.