Science Education

Author: Milo (Page 3 of 11)

The Magic of Manure

From left: garbanzo beans, corn, sunflowers, black eyed peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and potatoes at Rancho Pillow. I just top dressed the corn and beans with fresh Silva Star Farm chicken manure.

I’ve been experimenting with using fresh chicken manure on veggies, and the results have been remarkable. In the past I have only used composted manure, but I am now convinced that fresh manure is just as useful, if not more so. Providing enough nitrogen to veggies is difficult when farming organically. Fresh manure is full of available nitrogen, a nutrient which escapes quickly into the atmosphere when manure is exposed to light and air. This season I have limited my application of fresh manure to heavy feeding crops like corn, which is also a crop that has no direct contact with the soil (never spread fresh manure on salad greens).

For the past 5 months we have had 300 chickens moving around Rancho Pillow in a 30ft eggstream trailer. Unfortunately, our proximity to Atascadero creek meant that predator attacks were frequent, despite electric fencing. We believe a family of foxes was digging under the fences and massacring up to 12 chickens at a time. Sarah Silva estimates she lost 80 chickens to predators since last March. It’s safe to say those are some well fed foxes!

At Felton Acres, we have access to manure that is mixed with pine shavings in the 2 Brooder Rooms. Both were filled with about 2 and a half feet of manure, which we spread in the lower field around rows of corn and squash. Pine shavings and manure are both acidic, so I spread plenty of oyster shells to balance the PH. The corn an squash have been growing rapidly, and lots of tomatoes have volunteered from last year’s seeds.

Corn and winter squash growing at Felton Acres in the pasture where we spread manure from the Brooder Rooms.

Wildflowers: From Pomo Canyon to the Coast

A lush display of Hedge Nettle (Salvia family), Monkey Flower, Salmon Berry and ferns growing in a creek bed.

One of the most beautiful hikes in Sonoma County runs from Pomo Canyon Campground to the ocean just south of Goat Rock. About 6 miles, this hike makes a steep climb through a majestic redwood grove before meandering into open meadows and chapparal to the coast. Last weekend we were treated to a phenomenal wildflower show, and some exciting wildlife sightings as well. Among the flowers were the lush creekside plants like salvias and mints, lots of Clarkias, Self Heal and Blue Dicks. Red Elderberry shrubs and striking blue Clintonia berries populated the forest. Among the wildlife we saw was a huge flock of white pelicans circling over the river, a spotted toey, and an osprey. Last year I did this hike at night and observed several large owls hunting in the open meadows. There is a picnic table at the midpoint, on the plateau overlooking the Russian River, a fantastic spot for lunch.

Building a Bio Swale at Ragle Park

Jenny, Eliza, Greg and Sarah work on sheet mulching with cardboard around Juncus Patens (a native rush) and Carex Glauca (a meadow sedge).

We built a bio swale in Ragle Park today. This dry creek bed will filter runoff from the nearby gazebo, recharging the aquifer, and providing habitat for native plants and animals. The project was a collaboration between the Sonoma County Parks Department (spearheaded by Jenny and Eliza) and Three Leaf Farms (my sisters and I). We carved out a channel for the runoff, then planted native rushes and sedges. Next, we sheet mulched with cardboard to suppress weeds and retain moisture, and placed boulders to capture silt and debris. Lastly, we added a thick layer of wood chips. In the Fall, we will seed native wild rye grasses.

Hacking the Scraper

Robert welding soil diverters to the box scraper.

Over the past week Robert Kelly and I have been converting (hacking) an old box scraper into a raised bed former. We’ve been making modifications, and then doing field testing to see how our design ideas work and might be improved. The idea is to build a tool that will be specifically suited for our soil and farming techniques. Robert first removed the scraper’s blades and then cut a bed outline out of the remaining steel. Next, steel diverters were added to the side walls to direct soil towards the center of the bed. Robert welded pieces of steel to the scraper’s rippers, which now act like little plows, hilling soil inwards. This implement will save many hours of labor that we used to spend raking soil into beds. Soon we will add another tool bar to the back of the scraper to which we can add implements like tines to dig furrows, or wire weeders (spring-steel wires that weed around vegetable rows).

The bed former in action. It takes a couple of passes to get a nice smooth bed, this is the second pass.

Wild Spring Salad

Les Goodman (sous chef at John Ash) and I presented a miner’s lettuce, arugula, pickled beet and raw milk ricotta salad at USF’s Farmer-Chef luncheon. My sister Sarah and I picked 8.6lbs of miner’s lettuce the day before, mostly at Luther Burbank’s original experimental farm, along with a pound of arugula I grew at zazu farm. We talked farming and food with incredible chefs and farmers like Mark Dommen of One Market and Andy Griffin from Mariquita Farm. Les took the leftover salad back to John Ash and added it to the menu, where it promptly sold out. It’s easy to make fun of a plant that is so ubiquitous that many consider it a weed, but you can’t find it in stores, it is chocked full of omega 3’s, and it’s delicious.

We served 240 attendees of the USF hospitality management symposium. Lots of people had never heard of miners lettuce, or Claytonia, as it is know on the East Coast where it is grown as a greenhouse crop. It is one of the hardiest winter greens and it is also chocked full of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The Eggstream

300 chickens leap out of the Eggstream onto fresh pasture. They are eager to eat the grass and dig for worms.

Marc Felton and I helped move Silva Star Farm’s Eggstream trailer from Rose and Thorn to the apple orchard at Rancho Pillow. We will leave the chickens in the orchard for about two weeks, and then move them into another pasture. Sarah Silva will be tending this flock and selling the eggs to Bill’s Farm Basket, Andy’s and her chicken CSA. Learn more at Silva Star Farms.

Sarah using the tractor to move the Eggstream from the apple orchard to the forest at Rancho Pillow.

Nature’s Aerators

Heirloom hogs eagerly root up the soil at John and Duskie's farm in Forestville.

I was about to mow a fallow pasture at Macbryde Farm, when I noticed that the soil had been compacted by years of livestock grazing. John and I decided to let the hogs in to root it up instead of mowing. They immediately started turning over the sod, looking for worms and other food sources. This turning of the soil will reduce runoff and allow us to grade and re-seed the pasture. Each day, these hogs eat expired produce from Bovolo like fennel and melons, and should be succulent when they are harvested in about a month.

Duskie and John won first place last weekend at Cochon555 Napa. “Cochon 555 is a one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event–five chefs, five pigs, five wine makers–to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.” They prepared an entire hog with dishes like Pigs Head Cowboy Beans, Pig Heart Pork Bun, and Bacon Waffles.

Micro Mustard

Mustard sprouts pop up in front of zazu.

I planted a cover crop of mustard and fava beans at zazu. These fast growing plants provide beauty, food and fertility. They also crowd out weeds and help to control pests like nematodes. Right now, the zazu kitchen staff is harvesting these spicy mustard sprouts and adding them to salads and other dishes. In March the Fava Beans will start getting ripe, and the mustard will explode with bright yellow blooms. Mustard is cheap and easy to grow throughout the rainy season.

The Bale Grist Mill

The Bale Grist Mill's water wheel in action on a rainy winter day.

My family and I visited the Bale Grist Mill near Calistoga today. After doing extensive research on an organic grain production project in Oregon, I was fascinated to learn about Northern Califoria’s history of grain growing and milling. In the mid 1800’s the Napa Valley was a prosperous grain growing region, and the Bale Grist Mill was its hub. Much of the grain grown in Sonoma County was millled at the Bale Mill, due to its efficiency. Founded in the 1840’s by an unsavory doctor from England, who married General Vallejo’s niece, the Mill only became profitable after Dr. Bale died and his wife took over. She hired millwrights that rebuilt the mill in the 1850’s with the help of The Young Mill-wright and Millers’ Guide written by inventor Oliver Evans in 1795. This book detailed Evans’ invention of a fully automated, water powered grist mill, an innovation that laid the ground work for the industrial revolution.

Market Gardens at Felton Acres

Zazu Farm has teamed up with Felton Acres and will now be managing their 3 market gardens. The produce will supply zazu, the zazu farmstand, the Felton family, and their employees. Marc Felton has decided to focus on raising chickens, turkeys, goats and hogs. Inspired by the Joel Salatin and the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Marc left a career at Google to start a diversified farm.

Marc Felton moving one of the chicken tractors that he designs and builds. His farm is on an old Gravenstein apple orchard.

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