Composting at Sol Feliz Farm. Part III.



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Harvesting garlic at Sol Feliz Farm

20140723-163645-59805678.jpgWe have been noticing that it is time to harvest garlic.  We watch the scape straighten out and the seed-head with it gets more defined (you can see individual seeds inside the scape-skin forming).  Some of our scapes are breaking open and the seeds look like they are holding on but getting ready to jump out.  So it is time to harvest the garlic, at least for the five rows we brought in as shown in the picture above.  We will have to harvest the other garlic later as it looks like it can wait a few more days or a week.  I already harvested one row that was more mature than all of these as I planted it about two weeks in advance of the others.  We should have planted in October/November of 2014 but did not get these into the ground until late December and mid January.  But this garlic knows who it is and what it has to do so the only way we can mess it up is by not getting it the ground…

This garlic is representative of my, (Miguel Santistevan’s) progress and approach to agriculture.  I started out by gaining the friendship of one of my greatest teachers, Maximilliano Garcia.  He taught me about garlic and then asked me if I wanted some.  We went out into his field and found about eight wild and very small bulbs.  He instructed me to separate the cloves from the bulb, plant them about 6 inches apart (he quickly showed me the spacing between his fingers as opposed to telling me “6 inches”), and give them lots of water.  He told me to watch the scapes straighten out and harvest them before they break open as whatever the scape is doing, the bulb of garlic will be doing next.  From those humble beginings I now have an empire of garlic.  But it has taken me 11 years to get to this point.  I had the capability to produce this volume in about 3 years by replanting most of my garlic as opposed to eating it.  If you are lucky enough to get my garlic, know that it is the hottest, the strongest, and the oldest garlic you have likely ever had.  It is now wild in my field.  It is the original ‘Spanish Roja’ hardneck garlic that could more be considered a specialty crop in its quality and nature.  Hello flavor, goodbye sickness, garlic is in the house!

After we took this picture, the bundles of 20 garlic plants, held by twine from the neck of the scapes, were hung by the rafters in my adobe garage to cure for about 3 weeks.  In three or four weeks the flavor really sets in and the skins develop so it is easier to peel.  We left much of the soil on the roots of the garlic to aid in the curing process, it can be said that the garlic is still alive and pulling nutrient from its soil or at least still relating to the soil organisms in the soil/garlic root zone…


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Composting at Sol Feliz. Part II.

20140723-154633-56793819.jpgToday we gathered at Sol Feliz Farm to make more progress on what we started a couple of weeks ago (see our post on July 2).  We still have several piles of alfalfa and other biomass in piles that you can see us layering into a mound above.  In between the layers of biomass (about 4-8″), we put a layer of chicken manure/sawdust (about 1-2″).  We will know if this is a good combination of carbon:nitrogen by how much the temperature raises in the next few days.  We are treating the alfalfa+biomass as if it is carbon by making the layers, but it also contains nitrogen in that the dry plants are still very much green inside the pile.  We are treating the chicken manure as if it is nitrogen, but again, it is mixed with sawdust so both of our sources contain carbon and nitrogen and make the process of making layers of compost more about estimation and experience than measurement.20140723-154634-56794243.jpgAfter a couple of hours of making layers, we have a nice pile to show for it and have cleared up the field real nice too.  In the picture above you can see, from left to right, Miranda Romero, Jesus Gonzales, and Greg Romero who were instrumental in constructing this pile that is about 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide at the base.  We still have some biomass and manure to incorporate and we would like to define the pile into a more cube-like structure so stay tuned for composting part three…

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Growth and development in our agriculture projects at the Chrysalis School

20140723-152750-55670048.jpgThere is always more activity than we can report, but we like to write about major events in flowering or other surprises.  The picture above shows the third flower we have seen on the hibiscus that was gifted to us by a community member.  We probably should be harvesting the flowers to make tea, but I think there will be more and I appreciate allowing this plant to just do what she does for awhile.  My understanding is that she has never flowered so we are giving her a chance to settle in.20140723-152750-55670806.jpgThis baby pomegranate has looked skinny and flimsy since we planted her but now there are about three flowers emerging and I noticed a new stem.  So this plant also seems to be adjusting to the environment and showing some growth.

20140723-152750-55670378.jpgThe picture above shows a wild sunflower (anilles) that came up in one of our four raised beds for flowers.  You can see the raised bed in the background has some baby plants such as agrostemma, daisies, a rock rose, and others.  This is the second year for some of our flowers (we saved seeds from last year) and our first year for others.

20140723-152751-55671156.jpgAnd to update on the aquaponics situation, we have the system running smoothly and consistently.  Our system is working well but we do have to go every other day and clean the pre-filter to the system.  We have to clean the main biological filter system every 10 days to 2 weeks as well.

Now we have to fine tune the understanding of nutrient levels in the water tank and the nutrient requirements in our plants.  Our squash (above) is showing growth, but is clearly lacking some nutrient that is causing it to have yellow leaves.  I remember learning somewhere that in hydroponic (and thus aquaponic) systems, plants will grow if they lack nutrients but will not set flowers or fruit.  Other crops like greens can better be grown in a hydroponic/aquaponic context because they do not need to flower or set fruit in their lifetime to be useful for human consumption. In about one month we should have our fish population increased at least 5-10 fold and that should help with our nutrient levels and plant growth but I am sure we will still have to fine tune our methods and understanding…

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Growth and development at our Parr Field Garden Project


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La primera escarda en Sol Feliz


In the last couple of mornings, I was able to go outside while the sun was rising to hoe some weeds in our maize and bean rows.  This is the best time to work outside:  it is nice and fresh, the birds are singing and playing, and there are all kinds of interesting things to notice as our longitude wakes up…  Too bad I did not take a “before” picture to complement this “after” picture but basically we had a lot more weeds and some tall alfalfa plants that were towering over our corn and beans.  The process is simple and direct: use the sharp edge of the hoe to chop the roots of the weeds and then pull the soil toward the stem of the plants.   But the process requires attention for two reasons:  one is that a simple slip could mean you kill the crop.  Perhaps attention was lost and the hoe went somewhere you didn’t want or else you were unaware that there was a crop plant buried in the weeds and then you accidentally kill it.  The other reason for paying close attention is that there could be a “weed” in your path that is actually a food source, medicinal plant, or otherwise useful in terms of use or the attraction of beneficial insects.  We are especially on the lookout for quelite de burro (lambsquarter), quelite mejicano (mountain orach), and verdolagas (purslane).  But we also leave yerba de la negrita (globemallow), yerba del buey (grindelia or gum weed), and any other plant that looks like it is in a good place (perhaps it is holding soil in a bare spot, creating a microclimate, is home to ladybugs, etc.)  The idea in hoeing weeds is not to eliminate the weeds completely, they also have a purpose, but to really ‘knock them back’ so that our crops can really thrive by getting more sunlight and more soil nutrient and moisture…

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Harvesting peas at Sol Feliz

20140703-083132-30692542.jpgIt is the time of year when we can FINALLY enjoy the fruits of our labor!  The peas are coming into maturity and are at a stage when they can be picked for fresh eating.  Peas, locally know as alberjon, are frost tolerant and are able to complete most of their life cycle before the irrigation water runs out.

20140703-083132-30692216.jpgIt is important to look for the peas that are just right.  The ones shown above are too young yet but will be a perfect size in just a few days.  Alberjon can be picked almost every day for a couple of weeks to get the peas that are ready.  When picking alberjon, it is important to hold the stem of the legume where it is attached to the plant and to pick the legume off without damaging the plant.  Once the legume of the pea starts to turn a dull green yellow color and starts to look more defined and hardened compared to the younger ones, then that legume is pasado, or past its prime, and should be left for seed or dry peas.  You will know the difference between peas that are ready and those that are past by the taste: ones that are ready are sweet and ones that are past taste more starchy.  Allowing the crop to mature will make more dry peas that can also make an excellent split pea soup that is made by running the dry peas through the course setting on a grain mill.  The pea is split in the mill and the separated seed hull breaks off and can be winnowed away with a fan or the wind.

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