Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Thinking Differently - As easy as 1, 2, 3

Farmers can often circumvent the conventional wisdom and improve their bottom line by just thinking differently.

Let's look at some examples...

  1. I can buy a 50 lb bag of compost based organic fertilizer for $25.
  2. I can buy a pickup full (about a 2000 lbs) of compost from our local recycling facility for $25 which has more fertility and way more biology than the bag of fertilizer.
  3. I can buy a mix of cover crop seed such as winter rye and hairy vetch for about $25 and grow 15 tons of green manure, which when incorporated into the soil provide 8 times the fertility of that single ton of compost.
All of these options cost the same. They way you think is the only difference.

  1. Did you know that one pound of red wiggler worms in that ton of compost in our previous example is worth $30. Which is more than the whole load of compost. It takes a few minutes to sort them out but they are pure gold. 
  2. A month later that pound of earth worms has converted 50 lbs of compost into worm castings that are worth $80 and there are now 5 times as many worms. (Kinda like compound interest on steroids.)
  3. If you left the pound of worms in that $25 pickup full of compost under favorable conditions for six months it would have all been converted to worm castings and be worth $4000. It would have more fertility than 80 bags of our organic fertilizer and the biology is over the top. This $4000 would pay for 320,000 lbs of finished compost and all it cost you was $50 for the starting materials. If it were me, and I guess it is, I'd do two or three pickups full of worm castings and put the ones I didn't sell on my vegetables or in my potting mix.

All of these options cost the same. Time is the only difference.

  1. You can overwinter spinach or green onions in our Zone 4 climate and get a crop out of the ground by May 1. I will do that this year.
  2. You can plant peas by April 1 and harvest a crop by June15. in the same space you grew the spinach or green onions.
  3. You can plant carrots in the enriched soil behind the peas with radishes seeded in the same row as the carrots. The radishes are harvested in 30 days just as the carrots are coming up. The carrots, sweetened by frost, are harvest by the end of October. 
I just described 4 crops in the same space in one season. This is in Minnesota with one of the shortest growing seasons in the lower 49 states. I have done variations of this many times. I have never heard of anyone else doing this in Minnesota. Why? Because, with respect to the season, they think one dimensionally? One crop per area per year.

I also described a crop rotation that many people would take 4 years to implement. Think of how confused the insects and diseases would get by these various species in their space in one season. This is high speed integrated pest management.

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