Win the War on Food

May 13, 2022 in News by RBN Staff

source:  americanfreedomnews

by Patricia Aiken

Corporate media reports that various government actors are now predicting food shortages. In truth, food shortages are being engineered. In April, there were eight fires/explosions  at food processing plants across the country, two at major food facilities within 24 hours of each other, one in California and one in Oregon. Another two were caused by small planes crashing into them. That brings the total to 19 food facility blazes in the past five months just in the U.S. alone. Do the math.

Last fall farmers received USDA letters offering them 150% of the value of their crops in exchange for destroying them. These letters went on to explain that if they didn’t destroy their crops they would not be eligible for farm subsidies this spring. Talk about “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” This deal with the devil can actually be to our benefit. But don’t let this be your only motivation for planting a garden using regenerative agriculture principles.

Growing a vegetable garden is like printing money. Factor in five bucks a gallon for gas and saved trips to the grocery store add up.  Growing a garden using regenerative principles is also like health insurance.  For starters, food raised regeneratively doesn’t have double the phyto-nutrients or even 200 times more. Regeneratively grown food has 2,000 times more. Animals raised on crops grown this way also test in this same way. Imagine what can this do for your health and budget!

Before you argue that you’re too old to garden, let me say that there are younger folks in your area that don’t have land and would be willing to build a garden on yours. They’d do all the work and you reap half the rewards. Most vegetable gardeners would probably admit they give away half their produce anyway. Apartment dwellers have also created some amazing garden spaces – for example look up Portland Agritopia.

YouTube, for all its faults and censorship, is actually a haven for gardening know-how. A gentleman that fascinated me on regenerative ag was Gabe Brown.  His keynote speech in 2020 at “Farming for the Future” blew my mind. Gabe’s “From Dirt to Soil” has been number one on Amazon every month in agriculture since it was released more than two and a half years ago. Last year, I had the privilege of interviewing him for an article for Range Magazine. As a natural health nerd, I saw that regenerative ag does for the earth what healing the microbiome does for the body.

The same principles that enlightened farmers are now following work the same way in a backyard garden. Context is the first principle and an umbrella over the other five. What I do at 6,500 feet elevation in the northeast desert of Nevada is obviously going to be different than a gardener in Florida. But even with a ridiculously short growing season — the last frost here is around June 10 and by the end of August I was covering my tomatoes — the principles worked.

When I was invited to live in the Middle of Nowhere, Nevada on an old homestead, my first question was, “Is there room for a garden?” Come early spring of 2021, I was employing the second principle — Minimize Disturbance. Nature doesn’t till for a reason. Some folks might argue that tilling the first year might not be a bad way to go. But as a zealot, I chose to put down tarps that fortuitously were on the property. The tarps warmed the soil and killed the grass and weeds, giving me a blank slate.

Clear plastic is also a cheap and quick way to go. It will do in a few days what takes a month with tarps. But some warn that you run the danger of getting soil too warm and killing valuable microbes. You don’t want to leave it on longer than needed.

Tilling is destructive for many reasons. It releases the nitrogen from the soil. Weed seeds love nitrogen so weeds flourish. Tilling also kills earthworms, which are a vital part of the garden ecosystem. So instead of tilling the entire garden, I put in plants and seeds with minimal digging. I used some store-bought compost and garden soil since the ground was heavily compacted. Or as the wise man working at the garden center said, “It’s Nevada.”

Regenerative Farmers gleefully admit there is no such thing as bad soil. There is only bad management. So let’s jump ahead to Principle 4 — Encourage and Facilitate Diversity. This is where it really gets exciting. Last year, I didn’t have the full 411. I planted lots of different crops and included flowers for more diversity. Absolutely no pest problems. As Gabe learned, for every pest there are 1,700 beneficial bugs. No need for pesticides! I didn’t even have one ugly horned tomato worm.

E-mailing soil scientist Dr. Christine Jones in Australia furthered my education. She’s an expert on Quorum Sensing — when and how plants communicate with each other and do amazing things to the soil. Ordinarily, we think that plants take nutrients out of the soil. But when done properly, plants actually take carbon from the air and put it into the soil through their roots. But these root exudates, as they’re called, aren’t limited to just carbon. They put other substances into the soil which incredibly improve the structure of the soil. That improved structure gives the soil much better water infiltration. And the plants are able to harness and use the water better.

What I learned from Christine is that at least six different plant families need to be planted together. Although I had say tomatoes, eggplant, pepper and potatoes — they were all nightshades or solanaceae. So this year, I’m including about 18 different plant families. My focus in some areas is to create perennial beds. Since I’m fortunate to have a large area, I’m planting perennial flowers, blueberries, blackberries and flowering shrubs around the fence-line.

Full lists are easy to find online, but for our purposes these are some that I’m including in addition to the nightshades.  Alliums — onions, garlic, chives, scallions. Apiaces — carrots, fennel, parsley, dill, cilantro. Rosaceae — roses, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. Asteriaceae — the daisy family, lettuce, sunflowers, echinacea/cosmos, marigolds, yarrow, artichokes. Brassicas — cabbage, turnips, radish, arugula, cauliflower, broccoli, alyssum. Ovenopodiacea — spinach, beets, chard, amaryth. Liliacea — lilies, tulips, hosta, asparagus. Curcubits — melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes. Fabaceae — legumes such as green beans, peas, beans, and clover also take nitrogen from the air and put it back into the soil. Lamiae — most herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, rosemary and the flowers Bells of Ireland and lavender. Corn is a grass.

Additionally, mache, also known as corn salad since it’s often planted after corn is harvested, actually will grow all winter even in northern climes. It’s from the Caprifoliaceae family. Sweet potatoes and morning glories are from the same Convolvulaceae family. Nasturtiums are an edible flower from the Tropaeolaceae family.

So it’s not hard with a little planning to plant your garden for diversity that will not only lead to putting valuable carbon back into the soil, but structure that will make your garden beyond organic. A gardener on YouTube commented that since planting her garden Gabe’s way, her soil is now black. It will also lead to important mycorhizal fungi which has a symbiotic and beneficial relationship to plants. What Christine said that no one knows yet, is how close plant families need to be to have quorum sensing.  So I include at least six in every bed.

Here’s an example of the benefits of Quorum Sensing. Gabe Brown does what’s called dryland farming — no irrigation. In drought-stricken North Dakota, he shows a field of turnips, withered. A field of beans, withered. But where he planted diversity, that section looks like it was watered daily. It was his garden that encouraged Christine Jones to add flowers to her vegetable garden. Adding flowers to my vegetable garden also made the butterflies, hummingbirds and bees feel very welcomed.

Conventional vegetable gardens are mini-monocultures, all the lettuce in one bed, all the zucchini in another, etc.  By planting six plant families in every bed, you’ll be growing amazing soil and that soil will grow nutritious, pest and disease resistant plants. Diversity can also be brought to raised beds and the cattle troughs that some folks plant.

Moving on to Regenerative Principle #3 — Keep the soil covered. Gabe calls this armoring the soil. Leaving bare soil exposes it to harsh temperatures, wind and water erosion. This principle encourages keeping plant residue or living plant material on the soil at all times. A rancher in Texas took his soil’s temperature. On bare soil it was 117 degrees. Where he had plants, 75 degrees.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. I live in hay country and have stacks of old hay to use. I’ve found that soaking hay or straw in water then laying it between rows was a quick way to keep the ground covered, hold in moisture and block out weeds. Wood chip is also great for this and in some areas you can call the city or county and they’ll bring you a load for free. Some gardeners use strips of cardboard which is really a form of wood chip, no?

However, I’ve found cardboard was a lot more work to cut and anchor down.  In the fall, I raked leaves and got leaves donated from neighbors and covered the beds 4-6 inches deep. This armored the soil and will break down added organic matter and mycorhizae. As an aside, weeds are a sign of bacterial dominant soil. In wooded areas, you have fungal dominant soil. For example, there are ten apple trees where I live — not one weed under any of them. This year I’m using a product called Mycobliss to give plants a head start with mycorhizae. There are other such inoculants with equally good reviews online.

Principle #5 is Keep Living Roots in the Soil. Gardeners in milder climates are able to plant cover crops such as buckwheat, hairy vetch, various clovers and other crops.  Some cover crops will actually remain living and green beneath deep snows, feeding the biology even as far north as Canada. This will be my first year experimenting with cover crops. I am planning on some rows of buckwheat, which is a polygonal. I’ll also sprinkle buckwheat around the newly planted asparagus and artichokes so it can block out weeds and be a living mulch. More diversity and pollinators love it’s flowers.

Back to Principle #4 — Diversity. It’s not just plant diversity that’s important but also diversity in all life including soil microbes, insects, birds and wildlife.

Principle #6 is about incorporating livestock. This perhaps seems impossible for some backyard gardeners. In my case, I had arranged to borrow a few sheep to eat down what was left of the vegetable plants. But that didn’t work out. What I was able to do was leave both my garden gates open to deer and rabbits which obliged. But some folks do have backyard chickens or ducks and letting them in the garden in the fall would also satisfy this principle.

With a short growing system, I invested in some relatively inexpensive LED lights and a shelving unit. I got trays and inserts from Greenhouse Megastore. I started my seeds last year according to the package instructions. This year, I started seeds a month earlier. Vegetable and herb starts are widely available but purchasing heirloom seed gives you a much greater variety to choose from. Heirloom and open pollinated seed also allow you to harvest seed that will grow true. This will be my first year with seed I have harvested. Experts explain that the seeds will do better the second year since they’ve learned your environment.

Here’s a bonus tip that I haven’t tried yet. I’d heard people mention this, but I didn’t believe it until my brother in Massachusetts said his neighbor has big, ripe tomatoes by the middle of June. The neighbor plants his tomatoes in April. His last frost date is Memorial Day. If the plants freeze he hoses them off in the morning and apparently they’re fine. Gonna give this a try with a couple.

When Gabe Brown started this journey, a friend and mentor, Don Campbell, advised him, “Gabe, if you want to make small changes, change the way you do things; if you want to make major changes, change the way you see things!” I hope this has helped you change the way you see gardening. Wishing you abundant, nutritious, delicious harvests and victory in the food war.