Update: Moving to Oregon

I might not be posting as much over the next few weeks because I’m making a cross-country trek from New Mexico to Oregon. Here’s why:

  • I came to NM from NY just over a year ago because my boyfriend was going to grad school at New Mexico State Univ. He just finished, so we have the option of relocating.
  • While I love NM in more ways than one (the friendliness, the culture, the live-and-let-live attitude, the striking landscape, the low cost of living) I don’t want to spend the rest of my farming career squabbling over water rights so that more and more people can fill their swimming pools and water their lawns in the desert.
  • I miss trees. And the sound of a river running. And distinct seasons. Plus I have some cozy winter coats that are going to turn into moth food if I don’t use them.
  • Job prospects are not so great here for either of us. The Pacific Northwest has a lot more going on in terms of agriculture (more opportunities for me) and the three largest cities are quite close together (more opportunities for him), making it more likely that we can both pursue careers while still living together.
  • Cost of living in Oregon is reasonable. We found a two-bedroom apartment in a relatively new, well-kept complex in Salem for $550 per month. Private health insurance is affordable as well.
  • Returning to the East coast doesn’t attract either of us. After living out West, the “other side” seems too crowded, expensive, and rigid (versus dynamic, growing, taking shape). We feel we have a better chance of achieving our goals out here.

The runner up was Missouri. But Oregon won out, perhaps because of the diverse landscape (mountains, ocean, and desert) or Portland’s awesome food scene or the lure of the temperate rainforest up in Washington. Who knows? Oregon, here I come.

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Henderson on Sh—uh, Manures

Notes based on Gardening for Profit (Chapter 7) by Peter Henderson.

Back then when horses did all the work, there was lots of horse manure to be had. So Henderson took advantage of it and really piled it on.

At least six months before applying it, the manure was dumped in a natural depression. If there wasn’t one, they dug one out 18-24″ deep. They put up a 6′ fence around it. The wagons were pulled up next to the fence and fresh manure was tossed in, spread out evenly throughout the depression. Pigs were kept in the enclosure to break things up, and they were fed weeds and unsold vegetables from the field.

  • I wonder how large this manure pit needed to be. I guess it depends on how much manure he needed, which depends on how much land he was preparing (he’d spread 50 to 100 tons per acre).
  • Also, how many pigs? Two? Ten? That’s probably a function of field size and manure quantity, as well.

Henderson was a big fan of horse manure, and not just because it was plentiful. He considered it 1/3 more valuable than that of cattle and pigs, in terms of weight (i.e. 100 lbs of horse manure would work just as well as 130 lbs of cattle or pig manure). He also cites horse manure as being extra beneficial as a pulverizer on stiff soils. Read the rest of this entry »

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Henderson on Soil Preparation

Notes based on Gardening for Profit (Chapter 6) by Peter Henderson.

Henderson describes the soils he works with. His general guideline is to look for a dark-colored loam soil (neither sandy nor clayey) that’s at least 12″ deep, preferably with a yellowish sandy loam underneath (good for drainage). Soils to look for, in order of preference:

1. alluvial saline deposit – usually within a mile from the tide mark; dark heavy loam containing decomposing shells; 10-30″ deep; overlaying subsoil of yellow sandy loam

2. lighter soil, both in color and specific gravity – 8-15″ deep; similar subsoil to above

3. still lighter soil, in color and specific gravity – sand predominates over loam; subsoil is pure sand; good for melons, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, radishes, and tomatoes; not good for onions, cabbages, celery

4. clayey loam – 10″ deep; over thick stratum of stiff bluish clay; found on highest points; not good for early vegetables; favorable for a late crop like celery

Note to self: Look further into soil classification. I’m having trouble visualizing these distinctions because I’ve never closely analyzed soils. Read the rest of this entry »

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Henderson on the Business of Gardening

Notes based on Gardening for Profit by Peter Henderson.

One of the first things Henderson emphasizes in the introduction is that he’s no phony. He makes a distinction between self-made farmers–practical people who’ve “risen from the ranks”–versus people who have a little hobby garden or farm, spend a few years dabbling, and then write a book. Henderson wanted to let his readers know that he practiced what he preached. This is an interesting distinction because if I’m looking for information on how to farm profitably, I need to pay special attention to people who started off in a similar situation as mine (i.e. from scratch) and who’ve achieved goals that I’m after (sustainability and profitability). Why re-invent the wheel?

I wouldn’t have thought that this book, written in the late 1800s, would be of much value to someone like me, but Henderson must’ve really known his stuff. Sure, some things are outdated, like starting a farm for $300 per acre in the outskirts of NYC (ha!) as well as the hand tools and the horse power (i.e. horses as workers, not as pets). But other elements of the book are as relevant as ever. One example is his view on what it takes for a person to be successful as a farmer. More recent versions of this book have a handy list in the foreword that sums it up quite nicely: Read the rest of this entry »

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Newsletter and Photo Album

I churned out another newsletter for my loyal subscribers (the coolest 73 people on Earth) and put together another goodie–a photo album of my farming adventures over the past year. The pictures are broken down by category. I must warn you, however, that these pictures are NOT representative of how smoothly things went this season. Since morale was a little low, we kind of neglected taking pictures of the weeds, the crop failures, and the exploded hoophouse–well actually, I think we do have some pictures of the wreck that was once a hoophouse. Those will be put up soon. Until then, just assume you’re only seeing the “bright side” of farming. It’s much more aggravating than it looks. But it’s still my favorite thing in the world (next to ice cream). Here are the highlights…

Prepping – Tilling, weeding, tomato cages, and the biggest tumbleweed you’ll ever see.

BIG tumbleweed

Planting – Seeds, transplants, tunnels, and me fiddling with an Earthway seeder: Read the rest of this entry »

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Old knowledge on new paper

OK, back to business. My plan had been to borrow a copy of The Biological Farmer by Gary Zimmer from the local university library. I’d been told it’s an excellent primer, and I’ve been looking for a source to provide me with a balanced context so I don’t get lost in the details. But before I could get my hands on a library copy, my schedule went to hell and now my “inside source” at the university has graduated. So then I was going to actually buy a copy, but tonight I came across another highly recommended book that’s available through the soil and health library nurtured by Steve Solomon (bless his heart). The book is Gardening for Profit by Peter Henderson and–get this–it was written and published in 1867! For a book to still be relevant and helpful over 200 years later [edit: 100 years later–math class, anyone?]…this I’ve got to read.

That library, by the way, it’s dangerous. There are so many goodies in there that I could easily blow a month’s paycheck in one sitting–I was so tempted to print out at least five books at once, but I practiced moderation and decided to print only one title, Gardening for Profit, at my local Fedex Kinko’s for $16. You can upload the PDF to their website and complete your order so that all you have to do is pick it up when it’s ready. I had my copy bound nicely so that it lasts a long, long time. I also paid the voluntary $15 to become a lifetime member of the soil and health library. Small price to pay for such a goldmine of knowledge!

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PR for Albrecht

Everything is still on hold because of the aforementioned medical emergency. The holidays are keeping me busy, too. But the good news is that I’ve gotten a small piece published in Culinate, an online food magazine based out of Portland, Oregon. It’s a news piece based on one of my first entries here, The Drought Myth. While it’s quite brief, it brings Albrecht’s point closer to the mainstream. Check it out:

The fertile plain, Culinate.com

[Edit: 1/30/08]

Some readers commented that Albrecht wasn’t condoning the use of chemical fertilizers, which is was the piece implied by connecting his article to the NYT article about Malawi. That’s not what I was getting at, but I can see how that implication could be drawn.

The comments further implied that the Malawi government is doing more harm than good by turning to chemical fertilizers. I wonder, though, if we look beyond the “evils” of chemical fertilizer, if using them for a few years can possibly lead to a win/win situation. Here’s the comment I posted:

I completely agree that raw materials are the most effective way to encourage soil health in the long run. But, I’m not sure it would be economical or feasible for Malawi’s government to fund a more sustainable approach to soil fertility, at least not at first.

If raw materials are not affordable, then the next best thing would be for Malawi to jump-start their agricultural economy with chemical fertilizers (which are cheaper, more accessible, and more convenient) and use the excess income to fund more sustainable (usually more expensive) methods ASAP.

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