Monday, August 13, 2007

Manure that’s not yucky – you can actually eat them

Most of us especially non-farmers would react violently to the word “manure”. But we’re not talking about dung, muck, crap and most of all we’re not talking shit. We’re talking about green manure. Green manures are plants grown to temporarily cover the soil and then later incorporated in the soil to improve soil fertility and structure (Ooops! Too much soil there). Legumes are the favorite plants to use as green manure because of their nitrogen fixing capabilities. These plants fix nitrogen from the air, water and soil and deposit them in their roots for future use. Usually, these plants are helped by nitrogen fixing bacteria called rhizobia (it almost sound like my surname). The fixed nitrogen is visible in their roots and can be seen by the naked eye as pinkish nodules. Too bad for these plants because they don’t get the chance to produce flowers and fruits. They are incorporated into the soil before they start to flower. That's why they are usually called sacrificial crops. It is before their flowering stage that their stored nitrogen is at its maximum. After most of the plants are decomposed, we then plant the crops we intend to grow. The next set of plants will be the ones using the stored nitrogen. Poor green manure.

The Plot

Everything’s set, the pump, the greenhouse, the tool shed, now it’s time to stretch some muscles (believe me, I have some, hidden under a thick layer of fat). The vegetable plots are probably the most labor intensive task we’ve done in the farm. Even though my father owned a small hand tractor, we decided not to use it. We chose not to disturb majority of the soil food web. We didn’t even put into practice double digging. Kilometers of worm tunnels made the soil naturally loose.

With the use of a cultivation fork, a spade and a rake we started to build 1 meter by 5 meter elevated plots. We opted for smaller plots so we can easily diversify and manage our crop rotation. At the end of each day we plant mung beans on each plot. The beans will serve as our green manure (more in this on the next post). After more then two weeks we ended up with almost 60 plots, most of them already have grown mung beans.

To give you a brighter idea on how loose our soil is; it would only take two men less than 30 minutes to bury (vertically, of course) a 20 foot pipe.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Diversity in Tools

The roof for the tool shed was finally installed and is now ready to house our tools. It is important to have the right tools and knowing the proper way to use it. A two person job can easily be done by a person with the right tool – assuming he or she knows how to use the tool of course.

Let us give you some tips on buying a good tool. First, buy the best brand you can afford but make sure you’re paying for quality and not the packaging or brand name. Buying a cheap tool would only cost you more. Second, ask a fellow gardener or farmer who actually use the tool. I’m sure you’ll get a good, if not the best, recommendation. Third, if you’re buying a tool make sure you try handling it before bringing it to the counter. Some handles are so rough or so small that we cannot handle it in actual situations. And also, make sure to leave some handle-space in case you’re planning to use gloves while working with the tool. Fourth, learn about materials. Example, stainless steel is better than iron or metal but definitely more expensive and hard to come by. Stainless are harder to sharpen but stays sharper longer than metal. When buying metal tools always look for the words tempered and forged.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A greenhouse that’s white and yellow

While we were cleaning up, we were already planning where to put the greenhouse. The original plan was to put up a small greenhouse, about 30 square meters. Since building a 60 square meter would cost almost the same, we decided to construct a bigger one. This would probably be the most expensive tool in our farm but, for me, the most essential. The greenhouse will serve as our nursery, seed bank and will house our small vermicomposting facility (more on vermicomposting soon).

Time to gather the materials to build the greenhouse. We purchased more than 50 pipes of different sizes. What’s amazing was all of the pipes you see in the picture were loaded on a single tricycle and traveled 10 kilometers all in one go! We then asked for help from our friends to build the frame and install the plastics and nets. After 10 days the work is done.

While we were building the greenhouse, our tool shed was starting to take shape…