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So what kind of farmer are you?

June 19, 2012

This question was posed to me recently after I engaged a vaguely interested senior farmer in a conversation about irrigating young nut trees with horsetail tea. Were we organic? Biodynamic? Amateurs? I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I hadn’t considered a one-size-fits-all label for us or our Weed Patch.

 We’re not aiming for certification under the BC Organic Management Standards, but we are becoming familiar with the standards in the event we pursue certification down the road. However, there is nothing in the BC Certified Organic standards for example, requiring a farmer to retain song bird nesting habitat (natural or artificial) in close proximity to crops. You can remove every wildlife tree; every native shrub and not have a single nesting bird on your land and be certified organic. On the other hand, the UK based ‘nature friendly farming’ certificate program requires farmers to devote 2% of their land to cultivate forage plants for pollinating insects or habitat for insects and birds. But the program is eerily silent on the farmer’s perogative to use pesticides or insecticides in order to grow their adjacent crops. There is biodynamic farming, which we take inspiration and ideas from but don’t have the energy to adhere to in a strict sense. Waking up at 4 am to spray the nut tree leaves with a fermented concoction I buried in a bulls’ horn for a year sounds fascinating but won’t make it on my to-do list.

Our idea of a straight planting row would send a traditional farmer laughing all the way to the string line factory. On the other hand, a hard core permaculture farmer would consider our crop lines in desperate need of several more curves or the odd labyrinth thrown in.

 If we need a label to describe what we’re attempting to do at the Weed Patch, maybe we’ll try a big mouthful like:

 “An Agroforestry demonstration project grounded in organic production practices, supported by principles of permaculture and biodynamics, and strongly focused on enhancing the local forage and nesting opportunities for our non-human partners in cultivation.”

 The ten year old gardening apprentice rolled his eyes as I read that out loud and declared – “we just grow things we like in a way we like…”

 Ah so there it is! I’ll let him answer the philosophical questions from now on.

Horsetail picked and ready for steeping as a compost tea for the nut trees. Horsetail is rich in silica which plant tissues require for healing insect damage. Most gulf island soils are deficient in silica and other micro nutrients.

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6 Comments
  1. Hi Weed Patch Farmer, it’s Conservation Grade here – advocate of ‘Nature Friendly Farming’. Our farmer members devote 10% of their farmed land to a set presciption of wildlife habitats. Our scientific studies have shown that this prescription leads to significant increases in farmland biodiversity. We ask for 2% pollen and nectar crops for pollinators; 2% wild bird seed crops to feed farmland birds throughout the winter and early spring ‘hungry gap’; 2% tussock and fine grass habitats for small mammals, invertebrates, and peak predators such as Barn Owls; 2% other habitats which comprise ponds, correctly managed hedges and woodland; flower rich pasture, etc. On the subject of pesticide useage, we are not an Organic scheme, although that doesn’t preclude an Organic producer becoming Conservation Grade accredited, as long as they can provide the habitats. Our members farm conventionally but have to demonstrate a ‘best practise’ approach to pesticide useage. We do limit and in some cases prohibit certain pesticides that have a broad spectrum effect on biodiversity.

    Your project sounds wonderful. We wish you the best of luck with it!

  2. WPW may become a mantra around here! Thank you Ferretlady for the load of horsetail from your garden…your unwanted biomass is our liquid gold!

  3. Isn’t it the way of us humans to try to catagorize the things we do (like “types” of farming) and not think outside the box.
    I think we could name your farming methods simply as “WPW farming”. That means “Farming the Weed Patch Way”!.

  4. Thanks Jeff and Cindy! The horsetail tea recipe is actually very similar to the stinging nettle tea post from May. Use ten pounds of fresh plant material per 200 litre rain barrel; soak for 24 hours and aerated with a bubble aerator or stir every few hours. Use immediately to water plants undiluted. if the tea doesn’t smell (or taste) like something you would drink, don’t bother using it on your plants! Horsetail has been used as a medicinal tea for humans for many years but the rule of thumb is fresh plant material, clean water, short brewing time and immediate use. The risk of introducing unwanted bacteria with a poorly brewed batch is high. The sniff (or taste) test is a good indicator. Good luck!

  5. Cindy permalink

    Hi WP farmer – I too would like your horsetail tea recipe.

    Love reading your posts by the way 🙂

  6. Hey there Weed Patch farmer, can you tell me about your horsetail steeping process, and about how much it yields? and, if you then dilute the “tea” further, to apply it? Am I gathering correctly that you apply it to the soil around each tree as a drench?

    By the way, I admire both your description of what you’re doing, and how the young apprentice describes it. They both sew it up nicely. 🙂

    Looking forward to coming up there for a visit some time this summer, if you’re up for it. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Jeff Wright

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