Saturday, October 9, 2010

Field Notes From The Farm -- May, 2010

 Here's the eighth in my Dad's "Field Notes from the Farm" series:  

May 2010

Field Notes From The Farm

It has been rather quiet on the farm since we made the decision to cancel the summer crop.  We are re-working the growing beds in our high tunnel greenhouse.  The beds are being dug out to 18 inches deep and the soil is being modified with peat moss, sand and biodynamic mulch to improve both its air and water holding capacity.  Seedlings for varieties we are trialing are already started to set in the first phase of the bed redo.

Our farm is near the edge of the plains and we do have strong winds.  Sunday, May 16th, the wind tore the 6-mil poly cover off the greenhouse.  We already have a replacement on hand and are waiting for just ONE quiet morning so we can install the new cover.  We are doing a few additional repairs while the greenhouse is down.  As soon as the cover is on, we will install the shade cloth (47%) over it for the summer.

The chemotherapy on my cancer is going well.  I am very fortunate that I have experienced no nausea.  My appetite is good and I have actually lost some weight.  I had a PET scan on May 25th to measure my progress, but the results are not in yet.  Valorie has been, and continues to be, a rock of support and an indefatigable researcher.  Diet and food preparation are a major part of the battle against cancer.  We are centered now on a diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, a reduced amount of meat, more fish, limited grains, and no gluten, sugar, alcohol or caffeine.  And then there are the meds and the supplements.  In some ways, that is my greatest daily challenge: to take my cupful of pills in the morning and again in the evening.  I won't go into the detail of these supplements here in the Field Notes, but if any of you are on a cancer treatment regime or helping someone with cancer and would like a synopsis of what we have found out, please send us an email and we will get back with you.

In the last Field Notes, I said I wanted to explore different ways that each of us can protect ourselves from the harmful effects of living in a complex, industrial society.  This month I have two ideas for you.  The first is about water; the second is about food.

Take the old adage that an optimist sees a glass of water as half full while the pessimist sees the glass as half empty.  The corollary to this adage is that the realist sees the glass of water as polluted.  Think of several cities spaced out over many miles along a river.  Locally, we could see these cities as Taos, Espanola, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and so on down the Rio Grand.  Each of these cities in turn draws water from the river, "treats" it and puts it into the municipal water system for us to drink, bath in, do our wash, etc.  After we use the water, it flows into the sewer system and conveyed to the local wastewater treatment plant where the solids are removed as sludge and the water is "treated" and returned to the river for the next city down stream to use.  This process repeats itself at each city along the river with the unknown toxic load becoming heavier and heavier.

But what does it mean when the water is "treated"?  I'm afraid it is not as much as you would think.  The primary emphasis is on eliminating bacterial contamination which is generally achieved by chlorination.  Chlorine is a poison.  That is why it kills bacteria.  The water is also treated for clarity and taste.  In the sewerage treatment plant, the effluent is aerated, chlorinated and filtered before returning the water to the river.

But let's back up and take a closer look at our use of the water.  As a nation we live in a drug culture.  It doesn't make any difference if the drugs are legal, illegal, prescription or over the counter.  When we defecate or urinate, these drugs go into our water.  I know from personal experience that the smell of my urine reeks, especially after the poisons of a chemo treatment.  Add to this brew, storm water runoff that carries away the excess fertilizer we apply to our gardens, not to mention the pesticides and herbicides.  The nasty truth is that none of the water "treatment" processes remove any of these drugs or poisons.  They are there for us to drink.  Bottom line, you do not want to drink any of this water.  What to do?  There are options, but only one that clearly addresses the problem.

The options are: to buy bottled water; to filter your water; to buy water treated by reverse osmosis; or, to distill your water.  Let's look at these options.  Buying bottled water is buying a pig in a poke.  You just don't know. Some major brands have been found to do nothing more than bottle their municipal water.  Filtering your water is not an option because most of the meds and toxins mentioned above are in solution and will pass right through a filter.  Reverse osmosis is a step in the right direction, but it does require a high level of maintenance.  An RO system will remove bacteria, but will not remove viruses.  RO systems also will not remove low-molecular-weight volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as MTBE (the gasoline additive), bromoform and trihalomethanes.  The clear solution is steam distillation.

Waterwise 9000 Countertop DistillerValorie and I personally use a home steam distiller.  I'm sure there are many brands out there, but we purchased the WaterWise 9000 on the recommendation of Dr. David Williams, whom we hold in high regard.  Operation is simple and maintenance is minimal.  When we leave home, we take our distilled water with us.  Buying and using a home steam distiller is a simple, effective way to protect your health.

Real Salt Shaker - 9 oz - SaltSteam distillation removes everything from the water, including minerals.  The obvious answer is to add salt to your food.  But here again, the reality is more than meets the eye.  Many brands of Sea Salt have undergone a harsh refining process and are filled with silicates, dextrose and other additives.  Our search for a healthy alternative led us to Real Salt out of Redmond, Utah. It is a mined rock salt from the Jurassic era laid down before there were any industrial pollutants.  It also contains over 50 natural trace minerals essential to human health.  It has a natural sweet taste unlike the harsh mineral taste of most salts.  You can buy it on line or purchase it at many stores nationwide.  Oh! And for you cattlemen, Real Salt produces a salt lick for your cattle that is approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) to help you meet your certification for raising organic beef.

Moving to the second idea, we move from a reactive stance about water to a proactive affirmation about food.  The idea is simple: start growing some of your own vegetables.  It is not to late.  Most of the nurseries still have nice vegetable starts.  If you are new to gardening, you will have a learning curve you will have to climb.  The rewards are immeasurable though.  You will be connecting to the natural world and the discipline of the seasons.  You will gain a perspective that counterbalances the hectic pace of our industrial world.  To feel the good earth in our hands reminds us in a very primal way from where we have come and to where we will go.  Death and decay are a part of the natural world that is the counterpart to the miracles of birth and renewal.  We draw our sustenance from this cycle of life.  Gardening connects you to this cycle and lets you declare a measure of independence.  Let's dig right in!

Where to get started?  My recommendation would be to purchase a 4' x 8' hooped growing bed from Ken Kuhne.  Visit his web site at GROW Y'OWN.  It is amazing the amount of food you can raise in just these 32 square feet.  Plus, it is as fresh as you can get: garden to table in just 10 minutes!  And you know how your veggies were grown.  This is a very significant part of food security.

I want to mention a few things that Ken does not emphasize on his website.  First, we live in the arid west where water is scarce and expensive.  A hooped growing bed or a commercial greenhouse uses markedly less water than a comparable amount of produce grown in the field.  Second, our summer monsoon season often brings intense bouts of hail.  This hail can flatten a regular garden.  The hooped growing bed offers significant protection for your vegetable plants.  Finally, I would like to address the question of cost.  Some of you may be put off by the price of Ken's hooped growing beds.  Let me give you my perspective as a commercial grower.

Our high tunnel greenhouse is large enough that we have to have walkways in the greenhouse so our capital cost covers walkways as well as the growing beds.  The ratio is about 2 to 1.  With the hooped growing bed, you have no walkways.  You can reach everything from the outside.  In terms of production, we target $8.00 per square foot per year.  Since we sell wholesale, by the time you as the retail consumer purchase our produce, the value per square foot increases to $13.50.  Take that $13.50 and multiply by 32 and you come to an annual savings of $432.00.  There are very few places where you can achieve nearly 100% return on your investment in just one year.

How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can ImagineFour-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year LongA few resources to help you with your new hooped growing bed.  Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful source of seed once you have become frustrated by the lack of choice at your local seed store.  Two must have books are Eliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest and John Jevons' How To Grow More Vegetables.  [A couple of other resources to check out, especially for urban gardeners, are Front Yard Veggies and Homwgrown Evolution.  See the links list on the right of the website for more resources.]  By growing a progressively larger percentage of your own food, you achieve psychic health, physical health and economic health.  Get growing and enjoy!

David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico

If we heal the land,
The land will heal us.

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