Archive | March, 2014

Thinking Outside the Nestbox ─ Getting Started with Alternative Poultry


by Kelly Klober

A few times in my life I have found myself on a very old homestead. When visiting them I am nearly always impressed at how they are laid out in such a thoughtful and efficient manner. On nearly every one a section of the farmyard was given over to poultry care, a poultry yard. Not a chicken yard, but a segment of the all-important farmyard given over to brooding, rearing and maintaining all manner of poultry that were kept for meat and eggs.

Yes, large fowl chickens were generally the primary birds kept, but turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas and more were also often kept — first for the needs of the family and then for sale into local markets where regional favorites developed. One such item is fried young guinea that is a late-summer and fall favorite here in eastern Missouri. A short time back our local farmers’ market did a survey of poultry producers as part of a SARE grant-funded project. The group surveyed included attendees at one of the Acres U.S.A. conferences.
One of the more telling things that the survey revealed is that while most kept large fowl chickens, over half kept one or two more varieties of poultry. A good many actually kept as many as four different poultry species. Continue Reading →

Organic Intercropping System Boosts Yields


Texas A&M photo.

Intercropping vegetable species that serve a specific role in production — from weed suppression to soil fertility to growth habit — improve crop yields over the entire system compared to a monoculture crop, according to results of a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education-funded study. Jose Franco, a graduate student in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University, along with Department of Horticultural Sciences professor Astrid Volder, manipulated functional species diversity in an organic intercropping system to determine whether a multilayered agroecosystem improves per-area yield. Franco said that the “three sisters” intercropping system of squash, beans and corn practiced by Native Americans is a perfect example of crops using functional elements to the benefit of the entire system. “The squash suppresses weed growth, the bean is a nitrogen-fixer, and the corn is used as structural support because it grows tall.” Franco chose okra as a pollinator attractant, peanuts and cowpea as nitrogen fixers, watermelon as a weed suppressor and hot pepper for its allelopathic benefits. Five treatments of intercropped plants, where each plant was incrementally added to the system, were compared to five mono-crop treatments over two years. The researchers found that, overall, crop yields increased on a per-acre basis in the intercropping systems compared to the mono-crop treatments, with the most noticeable increases in per-plant production in the watermelon-okra-peanut intercropping system. The researchers said that while some literature exists on companion planting, little information exists on using the functional diversity of plants in an intercropping system. So for farmers interested in trying out the technique, it’s going to take a bit of experimentation to find the right cropping combination. For more information on this research project visit SARE. This report is in the March 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Companion Planting: The Magic of Corn, Beans and Squash

Companion planting

Companion planting is an important part of any gardener or farmer’s planning.

Recent discoveries in quantum physics, microbiology and ecology verify something gardeners have long known. Everything in nature is related. There are no solid lines between the plants’ roots, the soil and the bacteria and fungi tying it all together. To help understand why garden crops do or do not thrive, we are led into the enigmatic field of companion planting.

Just as we work and feel best around our friends, plants will grow better in their preferred company. Although the reasons may be obscure, a lot of observation and a little intuition can reveal mutual attractions and aversions. The garden teaches us the value of old-time practices, fresh experiments and keeping our eyes open. Continue Reading →