Saturday, January 24, 2015

Successes to date

After the last post about the trials that didn't work well we would like to focus on some of the trials that have been successful to this point in the season.  These are the trials that we will showcasing to farmers this week at our early season farmer field day. 

Artichoke - Cauliflower Intercropping
Artichoke plants are very large and long lived.  Consequently, they need lots of space and lots of time to grow to maturity.  With this in mind, we chose cauliflower as a companion for the first year in order to demonstrate to farmers both the feasibility of growing artichoke under Jordan Valley conditions and the fact that they do not have to forfeit all revenue the first year that they plant artichoke.    We planted two heads of cauliflower for unit of artichoke in order to give the artichoke plenty of room to grow in the years to come.  Next year we will not likely be able to plant between the artichokes but by that time they should be producing multiple heads and more than carrying their weight financially. 

As is evident from the picture below the asparagus that was grown at greenhouse has been transplanted to the farm and is doing well.  It has been planted in a raised bed to facilitate separation next winter when it reaches adulthood.  We will not likely use a greenhouse to rear seeds in the future as it was expensive and unnecessary when labor is available to keep budding asparagus well weeded.  The good news is that the plants themselves are thriving and constitute the first examples of asparagus production available to Jordan Valley farmers. 

Phytoremediation of resting soil
After a solid month of rain, soils finally reached saturation to a depth of over 25cm allowing us the ability plant a barley cover crop.  The cover crop builds soil structure, enhances rainwater infiltration, develops healthy microbial life, boosts soil carbon and organic content, and reduces salt loading from previous years of irrigation.  These soil health enhancements will make a significant difference to next years productivity and when done over a number of years they will restore soil to a level of health that can support life year round - lessening soil loss from wind erosion.         

Our goal is to give both land owners and farmers cost effective tools with which to develop healthier, more productive, land and in turn to break the cycle of "abuse it and try somewhere else" that currently characterizes farmers relationships to both land and the land owners with whom they work in partnership.  Healing the land will have the effect of enriching partnerships and communities.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Improving Soil Health - One Seed at a Time

Today our Jordan Valley team began the process of growing winter barley.  The barley is significant for its contribution to our soil health enhancement program.  While the process of growing rainfed winter barley is remarkably simple its effects are meant to be highly significant to our crop rotation.  Barley is unique in that it utilizes a lot of salt in the production of its stalk and head.  This makes it an ideal candidate for a process called phytoremediation.  While this process is most often used to cleans soils of heavy or toxic material it can, theoretically, also be used to cleans soil of anything that the plant will uptake as it grows, in our case salt.  The process is simple; spread grain on the open field, disc it into the ground, wait for rain to germinate and grow seeds into full grown plants, harvest both head and stalk material and remove them from the land carrying the undesirable material with them.  The main reason that we have chosen to grow this crop in the winter is so that it can be produced without the use of saline irrigation water adding further salt to the soil.  Cover crops, like wheat, grass and barley, also enhance organic content in the soil through their root systems and encourage infiltration after precipitation, further flushing the top layer soil from salt deposits. 

Barley seed is spread thorough the field

The field is then disced to plant them

 Nature does the rest until harvest.

This process is both very inexpensive, costing us around $5 per dunum (1000m2), and easy.  The whole process took no more than 2 hours to plant 5 acres, 20 dunum.  Research on phytoremediation shows that the benefits can be significant - enhancing land productivity for years.  This aspect of our soil health program is designed to give local farmers simple and inexpensive alternatives to leaving their fields untouched during resting rotations which most often just forms a hard pan at the surface of the field discouraging rainwater infiltration and further reducing the organic content of the topsoil.