June 16, 2014 Farm and Garden Show with Bill Taylor, Tim Ward on dry year farming and Scott Cratty on Food Stamp Match on local issues
Jaye Alison Moscariello interviewed cohost Bill Taylor for 15 minutes, then both interviewed Anderson Valley Community Farm's Tim Ward. We talked about ways to maximize crops while minimizing water use.
While Bill was calling Tim, Jaye read some of Bill's "Dry Season Growing Hints...". They are printed in full at at the bottom of this post.
Tim added some great ideas: No-till and adding michorryzae from Fungi Perfecti. There was a discussion as to whether Brassicas (Kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli etc) have fungal associations. Checking a few on-iine sources indicates that they do not, nor do beets and spinach (and presumably chard), nor lupines. Most other plants do. Since Tim interplants lettuce between his brassicas (something Bill does as well), he dips lettuce roots in mycorrhizae and notices improvement. No-till will preserve more mycorrhizae for the next crops.
Scott Cratty spoke about the Food Stamp Match program in which folks can double their money up to $15 per week at several Mendocino County Farmers' Markets. The program is seeking steady funding; about $20,000/year is the current level for Ukiah and lesser amounts for Mendocino, Ft Bragg, Willits, Redwood Valley. Until now farmers, including Ben Wolff who has donated several pigs, have assisted with the fundraising; many others have gotten involved.
Here is a link to the show:
Dry Season Growing Hints for a Dry Year by Bill Taylor, Floodgate Farm (c)2014 707-272-1688
1. Pretend that CA summer is like winter in cold areas: not necessarily a good time to grow things. Focus on growing in a way that plants do their main growth in Fall, Winter and Spring seasons when water is abundant. This of course will mean starting some plants in July and August in flats or small beds using your limited summer water.
2. Increase organic matter in the soil. Not only does it hold moisture but associated fungi can bring tens of times more water and in drier soil conditions than the plant roots themselves. More on this in our July show.
3. Run drip irrigation frequent and short times, especially for annual plants. Steady moderate moisture keeps soil life and plants included happy. Flood and drought conditions from infrequent irrigation allow soil life to die off.
4. Save your own seed and plant at a variety of times and conditions. Leave seed stalks of plants you like mulched around. Have you noticed volunteer plants know best where to grow? This practice encourages that. Example: in June 2013 I scattered seedy plant tops around the orchard expecting a fall sprouting of desired salad plants. Instead some sprouted after a late June rain, more after a late Sept rain, and yet more after the February deluge. All yielded some harvest which continues. PLANT EARLY and hold some seed back for replanting in case of late freezes, floods, etc.
5. Create berms and swales and hugel beds – texture in your land. Depending on weather, the high or low areas will be more or less productive. Microclimates will help diversify the plantings too. Hugel (mound) culture places woody debris along with greener plant wastes in a snake-like mound topped with clean soil and compost. If your site has slope, build it along the contour (with swale uphill to help water soak into the bottom part). Water well, then plant biodiversely into it (including trees and shrubs and perennial veggies). A 6’ high hugelbed needs no irrigation once soaked. Ones built in February or later may not fully hydrate until next year – but if water is abundant you can soak it right away. Less than 6’ high may need a bit of watering in the dry season. Ones I built last summer and fall were hydrated even with below normal rain, and still retain quite a lot of moisture. Great alternative to burn piles.
6. Keep those older established deep-rooted plants. Plowing or digging up and starting with a blank canvas does not work well if abundant water is not to be had. At least have the replacements ready before removing a productive plant even if it is only moderately productive. Use as many edible parts as you can (especially on brassicas). Cut off seed stalks on all but the ones you want for seed saving. Chard and most brassicas will resprout from the lower parts of the stalk fed by their large root systems.
7. Use mulch. Not an inch or 2 but several inches to a foot on established plants (but not right against them; taper it down so none is touching the trunk/stem). Best applied AFTER the rain or just after watering. I will be adding to the thin mulch as the tomatoes and squash grow.
8. Dry farming techniques: when planting, loosen soil to depth to help it hold a maximum of water, then create a hard skin on top with shovel or roller (if too large-scale for the deep mulch to hold it in. Later, such as now, a shallow “dust” mulch cultivation will block the upward movement of the water. DRY FARMED FOOD TASTES GREAT - not pumped full of water.
9. Candidates for dry farming: Tomatoes, potatoes, squash.
10. Know when tree feeder roots grow: for a few weeks just after fruit set to support vegetative and fruit growth and again after terminal bud set in late summer (this one is longer and deeper) to store food in twigs and buds for next year. Scythe down grass at petal fall to feed the first flush and retain soil moisture. Keep shallow areas well watered and not disturbed for the crucial month or so after fruit set. Less frequent deep watering is the order after that: from 3-4 weeks after fruit set until harvest. When terminal buds set (usually August), above-ground growth stops but some moisture is needed by the feeder root flush but as the sun is getting lower this can be less frequent.
11. Use standard (standard/seedling or M111 for apples) rootstocks. AVOID PLANTING DWARF TREES. Their roots were selected as weak on purpose for England’s notorious wet summers. For grapes, avoid riparian rootstocks which unfortunately are the industry standard in many vineyards.
12. Learn your site’s hydrology – where is it still moist a foot down after 2 months of no rain or irrigation? After 3-4 months? Planting on low mounds in such areas means adequate drainage AND adequate moisture for plant survival (especially applicable to fruit and nut trees and grapes) and even dry farming EVERY year. Established trees in such a spot may be dry-farmed; if watered in past years they may need a gradual weaning process: cut off the water after the first root flush which ends about 1 month after fruit set.
13. Play the hold-over card: Plant chard and kale and other brassicas early in areas you cannot water over the summer. If roots are well established, these can hold over the summer in a semi-dormant state with no water (or one very deep watering a month if it is very hot) and perk up after the fall rains start, and be very productive as they will be well ahead of fall plantings. If it is very hot, some of these will go dormant anyway so no need to waste water.
14. Learn and use wild plants. Not only native ones but many immigrant plants were brought as food plants from some “old country” and have adapted to our climate. Think “immigrant” rather than “invasive”. Wild chickweed, dandelion, plantain, cherry plums, and Burbank’s thorny blackberries provide us food without pampering.
15. Diversify your mowing equipment. A European scythe available from scythe supply in Maine will leave an easily-gathered windrow of cut grasses rather than an unrakeable pulverized dust left by the prevalent weed whacker. If the grasses are seedy, they can be used to mulch larger plants or hot-composted. I am separating out the now-clean wild oat straw as the seeds have already fallen, for use as mulch on tomatoes and squash.