Wednesday, April 26, 2017

March for Science :: Let Science Fuel Your Passion

It was a blast being a part of the March for Science New Ulm on Earth Day! There were over 100 people that gathered at Herman Heights to celebrate, participate and honor our natural resources. I loved listening to the other speakers and very much enjoyed speaking myself. Here are a few pictures and my speech from the event. #everydayisearthday

March for Science - New Ulm
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Hello! Thank you for welcoming me here today and thank you for all being here supporting and celebrating science. As an organic farmer science is very important to me, so your presence and support is encouraging.

When thinking about what to talk with you about today, how science is important to what we do at our farm, many things came to mind. Than amazing world of mycorrhizal fungi around root systems. Food as medicine. How bitter flavors aide digestion comes to mind in the spring. The art of grafting apple trees. Pest cycles. Beneficial insects. Soil organisms. Riveting, yes?! Science helps me understand all of these systems, processes and interactions, so we can do our job well - so we can produce food and nurture our farm ecosystem.

While musing on all the ways science influences our jobs at the farm my mind kept coming back to all the ways science inspires us to do what we do and to keep doing it better.

Science drives my passion to farm nutritious, healthful and organic food for people, in harmony with our amazing ecosystem. So this became my path - to bring the environment, and natural health, into people's homes through food, and to deeply care for and nurture the bit of ecosystem that is our farm.

My husband and I farm, because we have a great respect for our natural environment and we wanted to practice natural resources conservation actively, on the ground. We choose to farm organically, because this is what science tells us creates healthy soils, healthy plants, clean water and clean air. And if the soil is not healthy - vibrant and full of organic matter, teaming with beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes - if it is not alive and well balanced how can the food be healthy? How can we be healthy?

A single teaspoon of rich soil can hold a billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa and many, many nematodes.

Recently we purchased new land, which we are transitioning from conventional agriculture to organic apple orchard and pasture for our pigs. As we were planting trees a couple weeks ago we were astonished at how dead the soil seemed. As we dug our trees out of the nursery bed the soil was beautiful - loose and crumbly, dark, full of worms and organic matter. We planted these trees into our new field, where the soil was compacted, more chunky and cloddy than crumbly, devoid of much organic matter, devoid of worms. We are excited to bring this land back to life.

Back to that fungi I mentioned, each tree was planted with mycorrhizal fungi to nurture the health of the trees and the underground soil ecosystem. The endomycorrhizal fungi live partially inside and partially outside a plants root system. This symbiotic relationship fosters a greater exchange of nutrients. The fungi helps the plant take up more water and nutrients than the plant can do on its own; then the plant pays the fungi back in carbon. Nurturing this relationship is a long-term investment, that thrives with lack of disturbance, which is why we use minimal tillage and are moving to no-till.

This fascinates me. Science helps me understand.

Parasitic wasps lay eggs in or on host insects - pests like aphids and cabbage worms - as the eggs hatch the prey is consumed.

This fascinates me.

These natural processes and interactions are amazing and science - hard core research and hands on citizen science - helps us to better understand what we can do to nurture them to better create ecosystem services into all parts of our farm and farming.

Over the last several years we have worked in partnership with the University of Minnesota on carious research projects at our farm. Early detection monitoring for new and emerging pests and diseases. A trial of native Minnesotan mycorrhizal fungi. Monitoring a bee nesting block for the Bee Lab. This year we are building a passive solar greenhouse for growing in the winter, designed by the UMN. All this research is so import and and needed!

My passion for farming is driven, in part, by the fact that there is always so much to learn - there is always something to observe and explore. Science fuels this inspiration daily. Sometimes we forget to slow down and appreciate it, but there are so many examples around us, all the time.

The topic of science keeps bringing be mack to my passion, my inspiration, and that is really what I want to get down to. Find that bit of science, that nerdy fact, or process, or system, or machine that inspires you and let that help fuel you. Let science make your life more driven - at your job, or life at home, outside your job. It can foster appreciation, build creativity and give you new energy for the things you do day to day. Life is meant for learning and the possibilities are endless.

I am a farmer, the soil is my lab, where is yours?

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Earth Day Events

Celebrate Earth Day with us! 
We celebrate Earth Day every day and tomorrow is a great day to enjoy that!
 You can find your favorite farmers around town on Earth Day - stop by and say hello.
Brooke & John

Apple Tree Sale @ Shellee's Greenhouse

Shellee's Greenhouse, Madelia, has invited Alternative Roots Farm to be a part of her Opening Day/Earth Day!

We will have apple trees for sale all day, 9:00am-5:00pm at the greenhouse. John will be there from 12:00-4:00pm, to answer all your apple tree questions! Plant a tree for Earth Day! Larger trees are $30 or $45, smaller trees are $11, or 3 for $30.

March for Science @ Herman Heights Park

Gather to celebrate all that is awesome about science and hear some great speakers!
The event kicks off at 10:00am. Brooke will be the farmer guest speaker at this event - come and hear what science means to her, and our farming. Several other speakers - teacher, ecologist, doctor, and a science enthusiast - will speak, followed by an act of service.

How great that this is happening right in our backyard?! Come and celebrate! 
Details here, or below:

Hermann Heights Park, New Ulm  •  Sat., April 22  •  10:00am-1:00pm 
To support publicly funded and communicated science and evidence-based policies as pillars of our society and our freedom! Who should come? Everyone is welcome! This is a family-friendly event.

What are we doing? The event will kick-off with local inspirational speakers (farmer, teacher, ecologist, doctor, and a science enthusiast) who will talk about what science means to them. We will then participate in an act of service: picking up trash in the park and woods area as well as cutting down invasive buckthorn and hauling the brush into piles.

We will not be marching, but instead will be gathering for a Science Celebration. Signs are welcome, but please keep them positive and focus on what science means to you. 

What to wear? Your favorite science shirt, gloves, sturdy shoes, clothes you don't mind getting dirty for the trash/ buckthorn removal portion of the event.

4.21.17 Phenology Report

April 21, 2017 Phenology Report:
So its been a while since I have updated you all on all things Phenological at Alternative Roots Farm, but I assure you that things are changing rapidly! As far as the fruit trees go, the timing of the bloom seems to consistently follow the same schedule, with the apricots already in bloom, the plums blossoms at "white tip" (flowers not open yet) and the apples in the "tight cluster" stage (tight cluster of flower buds but not yet in pink tip). What is important to note at this time of year is that there are not a ton of pollinators around working the flower buds, especially if its cool and wet out - because of this, the apricots this year will rely heavily on the pollination services of small flies and other native pollinators that may be hanging around. Hopefully the flies can help provide us with some apricots this year!
The changes in the wildlife category are crazy right now - the male pheasants or "Roosters" can be heard cackling starting at sunrise and through the day. There has been one bold rooster who has chosen the grove across the road as his stomping grounds, even though we have 2 hunting dogs constantly running around the farm! For some reason he has taken a liking to our chickens and has been caught twice now right next to the chicken run courting the ladies. On another note with our feathered friends, Brooke's favorite bird has returned - the Brown Thrasher! This bird is certainly a bird of the summer, and remains here through fall. The Thrasher is a bird about the size of a blue jay, with a long tail, long and slightly curved bill - to me it's the Road Runner of the north. What's even more unique about this bird is its amazing at mimicking other bird calls - including robins, chickadees, wrens, hawks, crows, grackles, etc...Although loud, this bird is hard to see and spends most of its time on the ground or the tip top of the tree.
In the riverine areas around this part of the state, the spring ephemerals are all leafing out, but not yet all blooming. Some Bloodroot has been seen blooming, but things like Dog Toothed Violet, Dutchmens Breeches (sp), and trout lilly are not there yet.
That is all for now.

Our bold pheasant, hanging out by the hens.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Greening Up Part I :: In the Greenhouse

The greenhouse is filling up! It is the beginnings of playing tetris with all the flats of gorgeous green seedlings that promise a season of plenty. It starts slow, with onions, shallots, leeks and celery, but we are now in full swing.

Small, round brassica seeds that love to roll in all directions.
We primarily use "soil blocks" (3/4" blocks below) to start our transplants. These are great for superior transplants, root systems and reducing our plastic footprint.

Broccoli seeds, before being tapped down into the soil.
Many seeds were started this week, including our second plantings of kohlrabi, lettuce and broccoli. Also, swiss chard and ground cherries were started. Early this week tomatoes and peppers germinated and moved under the lights.

Beautiful, beautiful celery. 
 Celery might be my favorite seedling, as far as beauty goes. (I don't like the stinky tomatoes, but they are beautiful as they grow.)

Tomato sprouts!!!
 The onions, leeks, shallots and early kohlrabi will be moved out to the transplant greenhouse tomorrow!! Woot! Woot!

A beautiful flat of bunching onions.
 This could be one of any number of brassica babies. The brassica family include broccoli, cabbage and kale - all of which are populating the greenhouse right now!
Brassica seedlings, in 3/4" soil blocks.
 We have some herbs started as well - rosemary, thyme and parsley.

Rosemary in 2" soil blocks.
 I love lettuce babies! Amazing that these little plants will be amazing salads in only a handful of weeks!

Winter Density heirloom lettuce.
 Lettuce celebrate Spring!!

Pirat butterhead lettuce
 Kohlrabi! Our first time growing them by transplant, instead of direct seeding in the garden. This is great!

Kohlrabi (many brassicas look like this).
 Seeding continues in earnest each week, as we edge closer into the season. Pretty soon we'll be seeding in the field!!

Peppers germinating!
 A peak inside the celery forest. ;)

Next: Greening Up: In the Field (part 2)