By Lynn Byczynski
July 4, 2009
Predictably, since a new word is easy to co-opt, “regenerative” has quickly become the darling of the large industrial agriculture companies who are now able to mouth ecological platitudes, formerly associated with organic farming principles, but without any intention of following them. We are seeing well-honed, corporate co-opting skills used very effectively by professionals.
The suspicious old organic hippie in me finds the new “re-generative” movement to be a devious attempt to displace organic in the public mind with a more manipulatable word, easily controlled and redefined by the agricultural industry. I can understand many of the large mid-western long-time chemical farmers not liking the word “organic” and thus a new word being useful to communicate with them. All well and good. Use the word “regenerative” to lure them in to being better farmers.
Why two of our hoophouses are named because of Emily
2011 was a big year for us on One Drop Farm. We built three hoophouses and had our first child.
I keep being reminded of the beginning of the decade even though it’s almost 2020 because our apprentice from 2011, Emily Eckhardt, has moved back to town and we couldn't be more excited! We’ve had a lot of changes on our farm and perhaps the reminders of the past that are now present again have put me in a reflective mood.
As soon as we start driving our routes in the spring our customers ask us when we’ll have roselilies. They’re that popular and have become a signature crop for us. They’re basically a type of oriental lily, but with multiple layers of petals, and without stamens and pistils (i.e. no pollen!).
Best of all, they’re pretty easy to grow. The first two Roselily varieties became available in 2011, and since then more and better varieties have been introduced. The bulbs are available from only a few brokers worldwide; we get ours from Zabo Plant.
High tunnel production systems offer several obvious advantages over open-field production. They also present unique nutrient management challenges. Primary advantages include greater control of nutrients and water, enhanced heat gain, additional growing degree days, and extension of the growing season both earlier and later in the year.
In the hoophouse plants grow bigger and faster. We want to avoid anything that slows growth down. All that growing burns up the organic matter and nutrients in the soil at a fast rate, particularly in hot, humid climates. We need to replenish the soil more generously and more often than we do outdoors. Good soil health means having enough plant nutrients, not surplus. If you have too much soluble nitrogen (N), it can leach into the groundwater or burn up the organic matter. Using manure or compost for a nitrogen source can cause the build-up of excess phosphorus (P).
We have three main seasons in our zone 7 central Virginia hoophouse: fall-winter (October to March), spring-early summer (March to July) and high summer (August and September). We grow one bed (90’/27.5 m or so) each of yellow squash and bush cucumbers in the spring-summer season, for reliable early harvests and to help with crop rotation. If you farm in a colder climate than ours, you might be questioning allocating the precious real estate to a crop that so quickly goes from desirable to over-abundant, especially when there are more profitable things to give the space to. One reason is a difference between southern and northern climates.
Local and organic ginger is a high-value crop that in the right market can be in high demand. Growing this tropical crop in the Midwest can be a challenge, and thus far, farmers thought they had to own a high tunnel to ensure adequate heat during the variable spring and fall seasons. High tunnel space on most farms is at a premium, so it is expensive space to devote to a long-season crop.
This was the predicament for Melissa Driscoll of Seven Songs Organic Farm. Melissa was growing ginger as part of a four-year crop rotation in her high tunnel. She found a healthy market for ginger and wanted to expand production outside of the high tunnel, not only to save on the expense of building a new tunnel, but also to more easily rotate where ginger is grown throughout her farm.
With protected space on the farm at a premium, we have to choose wisely when deciding which crops are worth putting under cover. We start out by deciding what to grow overall, and then deciding how much of that can fit inside structures, by doing a little revenue and profit analysis. Quickbooks is used to record sales, so it’s easy to list sales per item at the end of the year to see what brought in the most revenue. A version of that report extracted to a spreadsheet calculates profit per square foot by first subtracting the costs of plugs or bulbs, and then dividing by the cultivated area for each item.
Prairie Garden Farm has been growing cut flowers for florists and studio designers since 2010. As we’re on an exposed hillside in west-central Minnesota, we’re dependent on protected culture to grow quality flowers. This article describes our approach – planning, financial, and operational details - that helps us make the most of our structures.
I’d like first to describe our environment and business model briefly, so you can determine how much is congruent with your operation. It’s a good idea to have that understanding whenever seeking (or giving!) advice – there’s a lot of variation in where and how we all operate, so that what works well for one farm could be disastrous for another.
When we talk about high salt levels in soils we do not mean simply sodium chloride, as we would if we complained of too much salt in our soup. “Salts” in the agricultural sense means all soluble ions or nutrients - nitrate, ammonium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride and sulfate. Remember that these are essential nutrients – they are our friends. As with much in agriculture, soluble salt concentration is a matter of balance.
Over the past decade or so, the technology surrounding greenhouse and high tunnel production has made great leaps. One area where that is apparent is in the covering itself. Savvy engineers have designed ways to reduce condensation, diffuse light, retain heat, and even prevent tearing, sometimes all in the same product.
I’ve often wondered why more market growers don’t use umbrella pruning for greenhouse and hoophouse cucumbers. It’s probably the most common way of growing cukes in greenhouses, and translates well to hoophouses and smaller structures with trellising in the 6-7’ range. I’m pretty sure the reason it’s not used more is unfamiliarity, since most smaller growers I’ve talked with don’t know about it. It’s called umbrella style because the main stem is grown up a string (the umbrella handle), topped at the wire, and two suckers are allowed to grow out to each side (the umbrella canopy).
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