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Archive | Crops

Book of the Week: Tuning in to Nature

By Philip S. Callahan

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. book, Tuning In To Nature: Infrared Radiation and the Insect Communication System, by Philip S. Callahan. Copyright 2001, softcover, 264 pages. Regular price: $25.00.

Tuning in to Nature by Philip S. Callahan

Tuning in to Nature was written in 1975 as a direct result of an experience I had shortly after World War II ended, when I was still attached to the RAF Coastal Command in northern Ireland.

During July 1945, I took a Jeep from Belleek to Castle Archdale in Fermanagh County, northern Ireland. The RAF Coastal Command had its western Ireland headquarters on Lough Erne not far from our American Radio Range Station near Belleek.

When I picked up a technical report by the RAF on the XAF (10 cm radar) the researcher pointed out that most boat hulls were in sharp focus since 10 cm is a short wavelength in comparison to a boat. Diesel launches under way, however, were “blurred with indistinct edges over the stern.” It did not take long to deduce that the XAF radar was “seeing” the diesel exhaust — in short, the radar was smelling exhaust by electronics. This rather simple observation led to my irreversible belief that insect spines (sensilla) are indeed real antennae.

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Regional Crops: Preserving Diversity

Regional crops that fed our ancestors and provided a sense of place are disappearing, but some growers and researchers are dedicated to the continuation of these old favorites, refusing to allow them — and our food roots — to disappear.

Jenny Caleo performs a pollination experiment on beach plums.

Whether indigenous or introduced, wild-harvested or cultivated, these food crops at one time held great importance in their various localities. Interest in less commonly known specialty crops is increasing, even while their growing popularity is sometimes accompanied by controversy.

This article will examine four of them.

New England Roots

It goes by many names: Cape White turnip, Westport turnip, Eastham turnip. These names — all taken from New England locales — are used in lieu of its official one: the Macomber rutabaga. Traditionally a part of southern New England Thanksgiving celebrations, this rutabaga is a New England notable, although rutabagas — a hybrid between turnips and wild cabbage — are not native to the United States.

“It’s very similar to parsnips,” said Chris Clegg of Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. “It is not nearly as bitter as purple top rutabagas or bland as yellow rutabagas,” and is quite popular in the region. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Foundations of Natural Farming

By Harold Willis

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A book, Foundations of Natural Farming, by Harold L. Willis. Copyright 2008, softcover, 367 pages. Regular price: $30.00.

Foundations of Natural Farming by Harold Willis

My, it’s dark down here in the soil. No wonder most people know so little about it. But that’s why we’re here, so let’s learn. Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture, and thus of all human existence, for as we have seen, we either eat plants grown in soil, or animals which eat plants grown in soil. Our soil has been called our most important national resource. Wise use and management of the relatively thin upper layer, the topsoil, is vital for maintaining good health and a high standard of living.

But through misuse, about 7-10 tons of topsoil per acre are being lost to erosion each year in the Midwest (the figure can be much higher in the worst areas). It may take several hundred years for 1 inch of soil to form. Obviously, we can’t keep on sending our topsoil down the river much longer.

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Post-Harvest Crop Losses

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released the results of on-farm measurements taken to assess post-harvest crop losses. The report, No Food Left Behind: Underutilized Produce Ripe for Alternative Markets, examines four crops during the 2017-2018 growing season at a set of farms in Florida, New Jersey, Idaho and Arizona.

The study reveals that 40 percent of tomatoes, 39 percent of peaches, 56 percent of romaine lettuce and 2 percent of processing potatoes were left in the field – often due to weather, labor costs or market conditions. The report also highlights the potential to increase availability of fruits and vegetables in the United States by better utilizing what is already being produced.

The United States is a leading producer of agricultural products, and much of what is grown on U.S. farms feeds the U.S. population. In fact, between 60 and 75 percent of fresh produce available in the U.S. is produced domestically. While the current system efficiently delivers a multitude of products to market 365 days a year both domestically and via imports, there is room to improve the loss associated with the amount of resources it takes to accomplish this delivery along the supply chain, particularly at both endpoints – farms and retailers.

“When food is lost at any point on its journey from farm to plate, that loss contributes to wasted land, water and other resources used to produce that food,” said Pete Pearson, director of food loss and waste at WWF. “There’s incredible opportunity to learn what drives food loss in domestic production and distribution, and to influence import markets by finding better global practices that could reduce agricultural expansion in other parts of the world.” Continue Reading →

Farming to Improve Soil Health

Today, you can’t pick up a farm paper or any other ag publication without seeing something about cover crops, minimum tillage and farming to improve soil health.

But what exactly is meant by “soil health?” Much of the soil health focus is on soil biology and fostering a healthy, diverse, living ecosystem in the soil. I agree that soil life is a key component of soil health, but in my opinion, the other important aspect of soil health is the soil’s ability to dish out nutrients to the crop, and then using the right sources of minerals to make up for any shortcomings in what the soil can provide. This aspect of soil health is often overlooked in discussions on the topic, but is equally important in getting you a high-quality bumper crop.

Like many aspects of biological farming, it’s the balance of different components that makes the system work.

I believe that many farmers now recognize that the soil is alive, a teeming underground city of creatures, all doing their own “jobs,” working together. They can be really productive, naturally balancing things out and providing nutrients for the crop that’s being grown. Soil health under this definition is a balance of organisms — no group crowding out any other group, seizing control and causing crop problems. Continue Reading →

Minerals for Healthy Soil & High-Quality, Top Yields

It’s a new century, and there is more knowledge about farming and the role of minerals, and there are more farmers paying attention to it. When it comes to farming, we know what the “base” is: putting all the pieces together including minerals, biology and soil structure — and using crop fertilizers that provide above and  beyond what the soil can dish out in terms of nutrients and biology.

A fall mixed cover the author grew after rye was harvested. He used the cover crop to capture nutrients in a biological form and to cycle nutrients to get more minerals into the following cash crop.

Even though there’s a lot of discussion about soil health, no-till and soil structure in farming right now, not enough attention is paid to minerals.

It seems like so much of agriculture is spending its time and money chasing magic biologicals, foliars or plant protection and not focusing on doing everything you can to feed your crop a balance of minerals and prevent the problems in the first place.

So what is your limiting factor or constraint that interferes with plant production and plant health? You need to understand that your farming practices have a lot of influence on plant health, and plants that are healthy protect themselves — just as you have an immune system that functions well if you are healthy. Reduce stress; eat a balanced diet with a balance of nutrients; eat a variety of foods that are clean without foreign compounds to fight and a good biological balance. If you get all that right do you need to take supplements?

It’s not farming the same way it was in grandpa’s day because there was a lot he didn’t know. He didn’t understand nutrients, soil health or soil fertility, and didn’t have the tools we have. He was stuck with a “plow.” If I asked you to do everything you could to get your soils healthy and mineralized, what would you do? Continue Reading →