GREETINGS FELLOW GROWERS:
I would normally say “I hope you are surviving the winter “as I sit here writing this newsletter. However, this year has been anything but normal! We enjoy day after day of above normal temperatures and my snow shovel is sitting in the corner beginning to rust from lack of use! And, although I suppose that we could get into a deep discussion about the effect on the spring water table level, my mouth seems to be fixed in a permanent smile. To say that winter is not my favorite season would be a colossal understatement to say the least! I have already seen daffodils up about 4 inches, new growth on rose bushes on the south side of houses, day lilies coming up, robins, and my parking lot seems to be well into the dreaded “mud season”. Even if we have a return to “normal” weather – this week is March!
OK, after not getting this newsletter out last week because I was putting a new furnace into my mother’s house, I unfortunately have to retract the above paragraph! I just came in from spending several hours moving snow after getting about 8 inches of the dreaded white stuff!! But, all in all I will still hold to the fact that it has been a pretty mild and snow free winter. And rumor is that it will hit 60 degrees this week!
I am already in the process of starting to sow seeds for the spring season. My guess is that most of you are in the process of ordering seeds and that you too will be starting some of the early seeds soon. I suggest that you go back and read the comprehensive seed starting article in the March 2011 issue of this newsletter. It will answer virtually all your questions about starting your own seeds. You can write to me with any additional questions you might have about the seed starting process.
The Manchester project is progressing well. As I mentioned before, I have been contracted to develop the science and business model for a sustainable agricultural operation for the refugee community in Manchester, N.H. The greenhouse and specified wavelength growing chambers are nearing completion and the first chamber just became operational this week. Retailers have already committed to all we can grow. The refugee field production and Farmers Market operation has been greatly expanded over last year’s level. There is still a lot of work to do but the first chamber is fully functional and the rest will follow in a matter of days. Here are a few pictures from a recent work day at the Manchester location.
We have increased production capability here at the Veggie Clinic to meet increased demand. There will be some new varieties and products this year that I think you will like. I have ROWDY ROOTS ORGANIC GROWING MIX available now if you need it for seed starting along with sphagnum peat moss, perlite and 601 seed starting containers. Just drop me a line if you need anything.
The SUNDAY SEMINARS AT THE CASTLE series started off with a full house. This seminar has become quite popular. For those of you who missed the PREPAREDNESS 101 seminar and would like to take it, two groups have approached me to repeat it in two other locations. I will let you know as soon as they have finalized place and time.
AHHHH, THE SCIENCE!:
A couple of weeks ago I attended a great all day seminar on soil science and soil test analysis. It was a collaborative presentation by the National Resources Conservation Service, The NH Association of Conservation Districts, Greenstart and the Coos, Carroll, Belknap and Sullivan County Conservation Districts. The entire day was spent on subjects such as soil chemistry, pH, nutrient management, tillage techniques, soil structure, improving soil health and soil testing.
Bianca Moebius-Clune PhD from perhaps my favorite agricultural science group on the planet – the Cornell Extension Service/plant pathology department – gave a riveting (OK, I was trained as a scientist, what can I say!?!) presentation on the comprehensive Cornell soil test and how to interpret it. The entire workshop was thoroughly enjoyable and had my grey matter smiling all day!
SPEAKING ABOUT SOIL SCIENCE:
It was quite timely that, during the same week that I attended the soil science seminar (say that one three times as fast as possible!) I received the January 28, 2012 issue of Science News. In the issue was/is a very thought provoking article entitled SOIL’S HIDDEN SECRETS written by Charles Petit. The body of the article dealt with the role of the globe’s soil layer in the attempt to understand climate science – especially soil’s role in the realm of climate change. I highly suggest that all of you interested in soil in general read the article. Here is the link to the article: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/337548/title/Soil’s_Hidden_Secrets
In lieu of that, I will make an attempt to highlight a few of the key issues discussed.
The last few decades have seen a string of discoveries that not only upset long-cherished theories about soil, but also could lead to ways of improving agriculture by altering factors that control soil quality; say to favor certain soil microbes over others.
One big question is …”whether soil will speed up the pace of warming or slow it down as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other carbon-rich greenhouse gases build up.”
Soil organic material is about 60 percent carbon. Though highly fertile soils may contain only 1 to 3 percent organic material, a few kinds – in peat bogs or Arctic tundra – may be compacted vegetation. In all, soil holds more than three times as much carbon as the amount found in above ground vegetation or in the atmosphere. Carbon exists not only in living roots and myriad microbes, worms, fungi and other organisms that live on or near those plant parts, but also in accumulated material left behind by generations of plants that have come and gone.
If the bank of carbon held in the world’s soils were to drop by just 0.3 percent, the release would equal a year’s worth of fossil fuel emissions. But researchers need to answer many questions to learn whether and how the balance could tip. Why do some soil organics, such as rotting leaves near the surface and some several feet down, last only a season or two, while nearby there may be matter tens of thousands of years old or more? Microbes, most scientists agree, are key in decomposing such materials, but the factors that control the species at work, and why they may thrive in one spot and not another, are still mostly a mystery.
Around the globe, scientists studying soils – molecule by molecule in laboratory and field settings – have come to look at soil much differently than their predecessors of the past century. For decades, scientists believed that soil tended to “stay soil” through a process that resisted the decay of organic material by the development of large “stable” molecules called HUMIC SUBSTANCES. Reading through your garden catalogs or browsing the soil amendment aisle of your local garden center you have undoubtedly seen bags of HUMIC materials to add to your soil. Well, that is now widely accepted as fiction, with little or no verifiable scientific evidence that such “stabilizing” molecules or substances actually exist in soils.
“A new paradigm that the persistence of soil organic matter is controlled by the surrounding microbial ecosystem, means that the huge store of carbon in soil may be less stable than has been thought. That also means, though, that manipulating conditions in the soil, particularly of forests managed for timber or paper or in agriculture, could improve the ground’s ability to hold onto a larger share of the carbon cycling through.”
Up until the mid-1990’s, scientists made the seemingly quite logical assumption that as more carbon was released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, plants (which take in carbon dioxide and use it in photosynthesis and release oxygen and water) would be invigorated, grow more aggressively and release more organic substances such as proteins, sugars etc. into the soil – effectively “locking up” the carbon in the above ground and below ground plant ecosystem. As study on this process continued, some surprising new data emerged. Bruce Hungate, a researcher at Northern Arizona University, working in conjunction with researchers such as botanist Bert Drake of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center carried on some controlled experiments at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They subjected trees to a carbon dioxide level expected to exist within 70 years – around 700 ppm.
“Periodically, the researchers pulled out cores of dirt up to 10 feet long…After 11 years, the team dug up the trees. The tests revealed that when CO2 went up, the trees indeed grew more. But to the team’s surprise, carbon in the soil fell – by as much as 15% near the surface..”
Their findings showed that as the atmospheric carbon levels rose, the trees grew more aggressively AND the soil microbes also thrived and multiplied. The compounds such as proteins and sugars that the trees gave off below soil surface acted as a grand buffet for the microbe populations. As Hungate states “…what happens is that while the bugs (microbes) eat the new material, they also start eating the other stuff that has built up. It is like if I served you a soda with lunch, you’d start eating the table too.” And when microbes eat organic matter, waste products include carbon dioxide and methane, which quickly make their way out of the soil and into the atmosphere.
Needless to say, this new understanding of the complex and dynamic nature of the carbon/soil cycle and indeed soil itself has opened new areas of research, discussion and debate in the worlds of soil science and climate study. As stated in a paper from the Lake Constance Think Tank on Global Change and Feedback from Global Carbon Dynamics “New insights gathered across disciplines….have challenged several foundational principles of soil biogeochemistry and ecosystem models.” A discussion of 5 of the key conclusions is included in the article.
Remember in a past newsletter – April 2011 – I discussed “living soil” and why it was/is so essential to successful organic growing? You are probably gathering from the above article, that microbes actually play a crucial role in both successful vegetable and crop production AND undoubtedly play a crucial role in the potential stability and “health” of the atmosphere and ultimately the planet! As Charles Petit states: “A closer look at soils and a greater breadth are needed to re-create scientific understanding from the ground up. Much of the dirty work will depend on figuring out what kinds of microbes are at work where. Few expect ever to have full lists of the myriad species in the soil: one gram of topsoil may contain a billion individual microbial cells encompassing tens of thousands to a million different species. Only a tiny fraction of those species have been cultured in labs or even named. But researchers hope, at least, to group the organisms by types that eat the same things, multiply at the same rates and excrete the same gases and wastes.
I will not get into the second part of the article which discusses the Arctic soils, which contain possibly ½ of all soil carbon or about 1,500,000,000 tons – currently frozen and “locked up.” Will rising global temperatures increase microbial action, causing rapid decomposition and release of waste gases such as carbon dioxide and methane?
As gardeners, most of you are aware of the current trend to sell a myriad of products with beneficial bacteria, microbes and “Probiotics”. I can already hear some of your questions! I will try to sort out some of the science from the advertising surrounding some of these products and pass the information on to you in subsequent newsletters. It is, as you can guess, a fairly tangled web! Do I currently use some of these products in my personal and commercial operations? Yes. Do I weigh the science and the specific application carefully before I spend the money on them? Yes.
AS USUAL – MORE TO COME ON THIS SUBJECT!
VISITORS AT THE VEGGIE CLINIC:
On the 15th of February, the Barrington Bloomers garden club came to the Castle/Veggie Clinic for a winter field trip. We spent quite a bit of time out in the PHOTOTRON talking about the science of specified wavelength growing. Some of them even munched on pieces of the lettuce crop that was in full production at the time. We then moved inside the Castle and had a very enjoyable hour or so sitting at the banquet table, drinking hot tea and talking gardening (with a little bit of philosophy, science and humor thrown in). It was a very pleasant evening. I have given several talks for their group and always enjoy their company and enthusiasm.
MORE SUPER FOODS:
In the last newsletter, I included excerpts from an article in Prevention Magazine titled EAT TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT written by Anne Underwood. I listed two of the “super foods” from the article and told you I would have some more for you in this newsletter. Here they are:
GARLIC – “Research suggests that, much like the ACE inhibitor drugs that fight high blood pressure, garlic ratchets down an enzyme called angiotensin, which constricts blood vessels. Though the effect is modest compared with medications, garlic seems to have a significant impact on the buildup of plaque. In three randomized trials, Mathew Budoff, MD, professor of medicine at UCLA, found that plaque progression slowed by 50% in people taking garlic extract, compared with the non-vampire slayers –“and the non-garlic group was on standard drugs,” he says.
The trials used 250mg tablets of KYOLIC aged garlic extract to standardize the dose. “But it is always better to eat the real food,” says Gary Canfield, PhD, RD, director of nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.
RED WINE – Any alcohol nudges up HDL, the good cholesterol that helps prevent plaque. But red wine may offer additional benefits, says John Folts, PhD, professor emeritus of cardiovascular medicine and nutrition at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. “The key is not resveratrol – you would need 16 bottles a day,” he says. Instead, compounds called polyphenols help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce the risk of unwanted clotting. “They’re nearly as effective as aspirin,” he claims. But note: More than one glass of vino a day ups the risk of breast cancer for women, and chronic heavy drinking damages the heart, so this is a case where more is not better. Dark beer such as Guinness stout delivers many of the same beneficial polyphenols.
DARK CHOCOLATE – The Kuna Indians off the coast of Panama have enviably low blood pressure – and unlike the rest of us, they don’t develop hypertension as they age. When Harvard cardiologist Norman Hollenberg, MD, set out to unravel their secret, he assumed they carried some rare genetic trait. Instead he found they drink enormous quantities of minimally processed cocoa. It’s rich in compounds called flavanols, which improve blood vessel flexibility. We can all get them from chocolate – a few squares a day. Dark chocolate is likely to have more because it starts with a higher cocoa content – but that’s no guarantee, since different processing methods can destroy them. DOVE DARK has been shown to have high levels of flavanols.
A personal note here from Dr. Tomato: a chocolate bar that I personally LOVE is the brand GREEN AND BLACKS ORGANIC CHOCOLATE. I usually get the 85% Cocoa but the 70% is also almost indescribably good! A lot of the grocery stores around sell it for $3.69 per bar (they are big bars). But here’s a tip – Market Basket sells the same bars for $2.50! Trust me – you’ll love them. And, they have some other flavors that are crazy good! DOVE also makes some “heavenly” chocolate bars.
Also note, it says “a few squares a day” NOT a few BARS a day!
OK, I have probably said enough for this newsletter. If you need anything or have questions, as always, just get in touch with me through the newsletter. I will leave you with this thought on modern society sent to me by an old and dear friend:
If the material goods of a society are abundant and cheap, their value to their owners disintegrates and waste ensues. The indigenous societies of the world gear their lives to a small assortment of deeply loved goods, gently made, carefully used and lovingly repaired.” C. Williams
Until next time, take care my friends. And remember – BE GOOD TO EACH OTHER!