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Check out this fun article I stumbled upon, 16 Foods That’ll Re-Grow from Kitchen Scraps. Some crops include onion, leeks, garlic, and the one that surprised me the most, pineapple.

It’s interesting to see how some plants will grow out of what we normally consider scraps or the waste parts thrown out when cooking. This type of information is applicable to anyone gardening for fun or even for small-scale farmers that don’t necessarily always have access to new seeds or time/space to let certain crops such as onions go to seed. Pretty neat!

Compost! Mmm that nice pile of “waste” decomposing in a pile/hole/compost drum in some corner of your garden. Some people have their compost down to a serious art, or science, depending on who you talk to while others just chuck that waste into a pile that occasionally gets stirred. However its done with whichever special recipe, everyone agrees that compost is a hugely important part of growing healthy soil and thus healthy food. Some such as Abishay (pictured with beard below) refer to this mix of stuff as black gold. However you look at it, there’s something beautiful about turning our waste and scraps into rich, fertile soil that feeds the crops we nourish ourselves with.

Making black gold

At the farm we usually make a “lasagna” out of:

  • Greenwaste: nitrogen and carbon from kitchen scraps, cut grass and alfalfa, garden weeds
  • Brown material: mainly carbon from dried grass, corn stalks, quinoa stalks, etc.
  • Dirt: fertile bed soil, adding a mix of microorganisms from around the farm
  • You can also add: manure (nitrogen rich and really great addition!), urine (for urea), ash, calcium, etc.

This last Thursday we hosted a compost workshop with our friend Abishay, a composting genius. We made a large pile of compost. We do use manure for boacshi, a rapid acting compost but not in our regular speed compost. This pile was perfectly stacked and with well packed edges that will be turned once a month for a total of 3 times before it is ready for use!

 

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Key things worth sharing:

  • Larger piles break down faster (at the minimum a 3x3ft. pile will do, even bigger if at altitude).
  • Start your pile on an even plain, flat surface cleared of grass. Piles should kill any weeds below it but it helps to clear the space first. We did a half fresh manure, half chala (corn stalk) base to see which controls the grass beneath better.
  • Fresh manure at the base will kill grass, while broken down manure will help it grow
  • Height  of the pile is more important the width
  • Water between each layer as you build
  • Water the ground for several days (dripping) before turning the first time. This will bring out the worms!
  • Manure makes your compost richer. Manure from smaller animals such as cuy (guinea pig), chickens, etc. is richer than from larger animals such as cows and sheep.
  • Urine is a cheap substitute for urea (dehydrated salt-like substance) that is rich material for any compost pile.

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If you’re in the Sacred Valley, come check out our pile! If not then these photos will just have to suffice. Best part of the day? Asking everyone to bring their own bucket of manure, urine, or food scraps…nothing like a nice warm gift of someone else’s urine! ~Kat

The harvest crew

The harvest crew

Recently we spent a day at the farm with the Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary harvesting honey from the 12 hive apiary. Several of the Sanctuary’s recent apprentices came to help out with hive checks and harvesting honey from two of the top bar hives. This was a pretty exciting day in our role as hosts to sustainably managed bees at the demo farm!

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Comb from a top bar hive

We started out suiting up and checking on hives in the more standard Langstroth (box shaped) hives in which honeycombs are pre-fabricated. Jerry pulled a fast one on everyone and insisted the inspectors could not wear gloves…eek! Luckily only a few stings later we were on to the top bar hives to harvest! The top bar hives foster a more natural form of beekeeping. The bees make the comb size and shape themselves, adding personal decorating touches that are more in tune with their needs. With this type of hive, you literally just cut off part of the comb oozing with glistening, fresh honey and drop it into a bucket. The pre-fabricated Langstroth hives take a more intensive harvest process that keeps the combs in tact for future use.

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Fresh sliced honeycomb

So Jerry, the head beekeeper, identified the most honey filled combs for harvest, then quickly sliced the comb into a bucket. I wanted to reach out and eat the honey right there. The bees were less than pleased but I’m sure they had plenty to share!

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home filtering processes

Next we crushed the comb up in a bucket and poured it into a new bucket with holes poked in the bottom. The honey sat and dripped through several layers of strainers to make the final product, pure organic honey. Home filtered! I’d say I can’t wait to try it but we definitely dug right in at the farm, slurping the fresh honey out of slices of comb. Each comb had a little bit of a different color and taste due to the various plants the bees foraged. Yummmmmm it was so good, messy, and amazing despite the sugar crash that followed. Can’t wait until the next harvest! ~Kat

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Checking on the ladies one last time

 

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Women in Maucua crushing up plants to make biocida

Often people ask what practitioners of ecological agriculture do to manage pest and plagues. Well there are many different methods that can be used that negate the need for pesticides and other agrochemicals used in conventional agriculture to address these challenges.

For example, we can plant certain plants or flowers around the edges of crops that either repel pests or attract beneficial insects that actually feast on pesky pests. Just properly managing soil fertility contributes significantly to plant resistance to plagues and pests. So essentially everything we do from composting, to soil preparation, to companion planting strengthens plants against environmental threats. Supporting a natural, balanced system reduces the risk of problems. Nonetheless we must also be prepared to address issues as they arise. One easy technique we use is Biocida, a process we learned from a local expert. It is ideal to use with community members because they can gather the ingredients from around their homes, similar to the soil fertility building Biol covered in a past post. Here’s how we prepare Biocida:

Biocida is a natural pest repellent used to both control and prevent pests from attacking plants. It can be used on small plants and should continue to be used on a bi-weekly basis. It can also be used at times when pests are attacking a normally healthy plant. But it is mainly a preventative solution rather than a control once pests have infested a plant.

Ingredients:

  • Bitter and aromatic herbs, plants, etc. growing in your garden and wild around your garden – these act as repellents
  • Leaf of a Cactus: Ideally the agave cactus or Tuna but any cactus will work – acts as a sticky substance that keeps the solution on the leaves (if you don’t have this, it will still work)
  • Water
  • Onion – repellent
  • Garlic – repellent
  • Hot pepper (i.e. a jalapeño) – repellent

Standard Biocida (this is the one we use most often):

  • Crush up the plants into small pieces
  • Mix in a bucket with water (1/2 plants;1/2 water)
  • Let sit for  24 hours so the active ingredients of the plants soak into the water
  • Filter out the plant particles inot a backpack or other spraying device
  • Dilute with water (i.e. if you have 1 6 liter backpack, 2liters should be bioicida and the rest water)
  • Spray on the leaves of all plants

Biocida Tea:

  • Boil water
  • Add all the leaves, garlic, onion, pepper, and cactus
  • Mix into the boiled water and let sit for 2 -3 minutes
  • Dilute with more water (1/4 biocida to 3/4 water)
  • Spray on leaves of all plants

Biocida Infusion

  • Place plants in a bucket with boiled water. Use a bucket that can be hermetically sealed for about 10 minutes. If using stems, roots, or plants with hard outer leaves, you may need to leave them in the infusion for 20-30 mins.
  • Spray on the leaves of plants

 Notes:

  • The spray is strong. Don’t spray on plants you plan to harvest within the next week
  • Apply after watering plants and don’t water for 12 hours after to prevent the bioicida from washing off the leaves

 Enjoy pest free plants! ~Kat

 

 

 

 

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The AASD utilizes a technical practice closely related to John Jeavon’s Grow Biointensive method of sustainable farming. John is a best selling author of various agriculture books most notably “How to Grow More Vegetables.” We appreciate John not only for his technical expertise but also because he is a great supporter of the AASD. John’s organization Ecology Action has offered numerous internships to local farmers greatly supporting the sustainable agriculture movement here in Peru. I arrived in Michigan last night to a package from John filled with a very generous donation of seeds and learning material for our organization.

John’s claim to fame is his technical expertise but he is truly making a difference by supporting sustainable agriculture in Peru and around the world. ~Aaron

This video features Ruben teaching some of the biointensive planting method to students in the Ccachin greenhouse. Ccachin is a small Andean farming community in the district of Lares. To date AASD has 3 greenhouses in Ccachin, one at the primary school and two at the secondary school. This video features AASD’s efforts with the students to breathe some new energy into one of the secondary school greenhouses. Enjoy!

[youtube]http://youtu.be/UdWyRdMZMBg[/youtube]

 

 

 

 

Growing Soil Fertility

Oftentimes at the farm we say we’re growing soil fertility first and vegetables second. Why’s that? Because without fertile soil you can only cultivate crops for so long before yields decline and external inputs are no longer sufficient to feed the needs of healthy crops. The soil is a substrate for growing. It is a living, thriving world full of microorganisms and nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth. The agroindustrial model looks at the soil as this dry, dark matter that must be pumped full of chemically constructed nutrients and additives. The soil in such a model is dead, dry, and just a substrate for placing roots of plants into. When we recognize that the soil is really a complex and very alive system, we begin to think about how to nurture this system so that there is a symbiosis with plants. The cylce of a growing plant and growing soil quality thus go hand in hand. At the farm we practice this in various ways, a few being:

  • Crop Rotation: Crops take and give different nutrients. We balance this through carefully planned rotation so as to increase, not deplete, soil fertility.
  • Association of plants: Certain plants complement each other and the soil.
  • Soil Fertility: composting, vermiculture, local soil fertility methods such as biol and bocashi (explained in future posts!)

What is Biol?

Over time we’ll adress our different methods for building soil fertility. Last week we made Biol. Along with the photos in this post, I’ll explain the process. Biol is a compost tea-like substance made from a mix of  crushed egg shells (calcium), ash (potassium, phosphorus, magnesium), yeast or chicha with sugar (quick break down), alfalfa (nitrogen), guano de corral (sheep/lama/guinea pig droppings), and milk all mixed with water. This can be done anaerobically (without oxygen) or aerobically (with oxygen) and stirred daily for a few weeks. Kind of like making a “potion” in your mom’s basement – one of my favorite childhood pastimes. When ready, we dilute it with water and spray this natural fertilizer on and at the base of our veggies for healthier plants and healthier soil! We learned this neat technique from a local expert here in Peru. It is so applicable for the highland communities we work with because Bocahsi utilizes only resources that the farmers here have at hand making it easy to make, low to no cost, and more likely to be put in practice. Plus it looks so nice (below), huh? Pretty neat! ~ Kat

Buzzing about the bees

Curious what this whole bee thing is about on the farm? Find out directly from Amanda, who is leading the development of the Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary. We’re excited about the addition of these  buzzing bees and their beautifully painted hives on the AASD’s demo farm. Below is a post co-opted from Amanda’s blog, explaining their work more. Enjoy!

Make the Connection! – A post co-opted from the Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary

So much has been happening here in Calca in terms of the development and planning of our soon to bee Honeybee Sanctuary. We are really honing in on our vision and mission for the project. What we hope to become is a world-class honeybee sanctuary – the leading honeybee sanctuary in Peru and the only in the Sacred Valley. It will be a place where visitors from around the world will come to learn about and experience first hand the wonder and complexity of the bees. We will continue to hold educational workshops where participants will learn about the biology of the honeybee and how the hive functions as a super-organism – a unified whole supported by its integral parts (the bees).

Our Sanctuary will be situated within a botanical garden with bee-friendly flowers and medicinal herbs that will make our honey, infused with the nectar from those plants visited by the bees, more medicinal itself. We will be developing our production of natural medicines, balms and lotions made from hive byproducts – honey, beeswax, honeycomb, propolis, pollen and royal jelly. All of these substances are manufactured within the bees’ little bodies after collection at their plant source, and used for various functions within the hive, and are medicinal for them and for us.

So, you might ask, “Why are we doing this?” First of all, the simple fact is, without the bees we would be S.O.L. and that’s the direction we are headed. Honeybees pollinate 40% of the food we eat. That means, in the words of Michael Pollon, “four out of every 10 bites of food we consume, we would not without the bees.”

In the U.S. we are losing millions of honeybees each year with the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder. Bees are 150,000 years old and they are just now beginning to disappear. The crisis began in the U.S. in 2006, and that year, 50% of bee colonies in America died. What beekeepers began to see was the disappearance of their bees. The crazy thing was, in the hive there was stored pollen, honey, larvae and eggs – all the signs of a healthy hive. But one day, the beekeeper would visit the hive and there would be no bees.

Why this vanishing of the bees? When this phenomenon started to occur, there were lots of theories such as the invasion of parasitic mites (a problem, but doesn’t explain why the bees seemed to disappear all together) and the interception of cell phone towers which would interfere the bees navigation.

These theories all missed the mark. What has been proven through extensive research, but which big corporate agriculture companies like Monsanto (the leading producer of GMO seeds) and Bayer (top insecticide manufacturer) will deny, is that the application of systemic pesticides, which go hand in hand with the practice of monoculture agriculture, have been the demise of the honeybee.

Systemic pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids (in whose name you can see the main culprit – nicotine), are applied to the seeds of crops and when put in the ground, travel up the vascular system of the plants. When the bees forage on the flowers of these plants, they are infected with a chemical that affects their nervous system and their ability to learn, to remember, and to navigate – the most important functions that contribute to the intrinsic coherence of the hive. Thus, the bees, who are experts in navigation and are hardwired to travel from a distance of up to 7 miles and still make it back to their own hive, when intoxicated by these chemicals, are unable to find their way home. And on their own, they are unable to survive.

So, part of our mission is communicating these truths and to join the movement in pushing for people to discontinue their support for the companies that have taken it upon themselves to control our food sources, to modify them with chemicals and to actually change laws so that we have no choice in what we ingest.

Another, yet connected, motive of our project is to address the common illness of NDD (Nature Deficit Disorder), which afflicts millions worldwide. While common, the illness is destructive to those inflicted and to the world at whole. We’ve become disconnected from the very thing that keeps us alive and of which we are a composite part. We have decided to manipulate nature, basically communicating to it that it hasn’t done a good enough job.

In industrial beekeeping, starter honeycomb is manufactured from low-grade wax, with prefabricated, hexagonal holes that are all uniform in size. They even had the bright idea of making the holes bigger so as to encourage the growth of larger bees, the postulation being that they could force larger bee growth.

Naturally, problems emerge with this kind of manipulation: First of all, in the enlarged holes, Varroa mites are able to grow in the cells with the larvae as they develop. These are parasites that feed off the blood of the bee. Second, bees can actually get too big. They are able to store more honey, yes, but once engorged, they are unable to support their own weight when flying back to their hive.

Bees at industrial farms are fed high fructose corn syrup, produced from GMO corn, which has been treated with antibiotics. Thus, those antibiotics and show up in the honey we consume.

So in sustainable beekeeping, we venerate the bees’ intrinsic knowledge and trust in their ability to structure the hive as they see fit. We feed them honey we store from their own hives during low season.

At The Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary, we have both kinds of hives – those used in industrial beekeeping (Langstroth hives) and a newer, more sustainable style of hive called a top-bar hive, which allows the bees to construct their own wax comb. Visitors will learn the difference between the two hives and why top bar hives are more sustainable than the traditional, Langstroth hives.

The top bars, which make up the design of the hive, have a thin crevice through the center in which a small amount of quality wax has been provided so that the bees construct their combs in a straight line, making it easier for the beekeeper to inspect the hive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In agriculture, we have manipulated the natural methods the Earth uses to make herself abundant. We have taken out natural pesticides – partner crops and diversity – and applied our own chemical versions so that we can grow acres and acres of one single crop. These are festering grounds for pests (requiring the application of more pesticide) and deserts for pollinators like bees. There is simply not enough variety in these monotonous fields for bees to find food source.

Through observing the collective nature of the hive, we can see that we too are the constituent parts of an intricate whole. We can contribute to the overall health of the Earth and be instruments to bring her back to life. Or we can be catalysts for its destruction. We want to communicate that: Health of the bees = health of the Earth = health of humans.We are intrinsically connected.

So there’s some information to digest regarding some basic issues we are seeing and some choices we have. If you think you are suffering from NDD, know that it’s not your fault, but that you have been conditioned to believe that you are distinct from the environment that surrounds you, and have been taught to buy into certain lies. But we have a cure! We can help you to see that you are connected to the Earth. ~ post by Amanda Sidman. Click here to read the post on her blog.

Mulch! Who knew such an ugly word could be so beautiful. Have we stumbled upon the ugly duckling of farming? I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but you have to admit, this lettuce, alfalfa co-mingling pictured above is pretty nice to look at.

 What is this Mulch thing?

Mulch is a simple, multi-purpose farming technique used worldwide. Mulch is any material used to cover the soil around plants in order to retain moisture, keep soil nutrients from burning off, protect against soil erosion, and even to add fertility. We’ve played around with a bunch of materials and finally today we tried out alfalfa for several reasons. First, alfalfa is widespread and accessible to farmers here – a perfect local, low-cost solution! Second, as it breaks down, the alfalfa will replenish nutrients that the crops it surrounds are taking out. Plus, it just looks good.

 Let’s get technical

Why am I sharing the marvels of mulch with you? Our demo farm lends itself to experimentation, knowing we’re not messing with a subsistence farmer’s food system. I’m excited to use this new blog theme to share some of the more technical farming practices we try out at the farm, such as different mulch materials. Even though we’re trying to adapt these practices to the region in which we work, a lot of them are applicable to other farming systems. Yep, that means you too can enjoy beautiful farming techniques.

Any suggestions for what we can experiment with next?