Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan
First, a big thank you goes out to the cheese curds of Wisconsin: Joe Schmitt, Carol Larsen, Hans Larsen, Emily Watson; and John Hendrickson of the University Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems; and to Doug Trott from Starbuck, Minnesota, and Jeanie McKewan of Stockton, Illinois. The Madison Grower Intensive was a resounding success! Everyone loved the presentation made by Roy Klehm, owner of Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery, which even included a gift of a free peony for all attendees. Thanks, Roy! Brian “Dr. Death” Hudelson and P.J. Liesch of the University of Wisconsin Plant and Disease Diagnostic Laboratories gave free diagnoses to anyone who sent pictures or plant material in for a show and tell. Thanks to Brian and P.J.!
Frank and Pamela wrapped up the day with a lively description of their farm, and Pamela’s bouquet-making process.
As with any of our meetings the farm tours are a highlight; a special thank you to the crews of Sunborn Flowers and Brightflower Farms. Believe me, I know what work it is to open your farm for the tours!
Mark your calendars for November 6-8: the 2016 ASCFG National Conference will be in the Midwest! Grand Rapids, Michigan, in fact. Look out for the coming details and schedule. One of my favorite nurseries—Walters Gardens—is in that neck of the woods!
Around the Farm
At the head of our 2016 farm goal list and the one that is most important to me is improving soil health. The first step is taking a soil test to know where we currently stand. This year we’ve decided to use a lab that specializes in the Albrecht method of soil fertility. Agronomist Dr. William A. Albrecht worked at the University of Missouri in 1940s and 1950s, and focused his attention on the link between an overemphasis on N-P-K regimens with a loss of minerals in the soil and lower nutrition of the food we eat.
His views were contro-versial at the time, but ACRES USA, sustainable agriculture practitioners, and a handful of agronomists now analyze soil samples using his method. This allows them to offer recommendations that balance macro and micro nutrients, minerals, and trace elements to create a beneficial cation exchange that enables plants to grow better. This is not a testimonial! We are just getting starting using this process, but we are excited to try it. Some of the best farmers we know in Missouri use this method and follow the recommendations. Sure, we don’t eat our flowers, but we do strive to offer the best possible growing conditions for our plants.
In the same vein, we would like to expand our use of cover crops in all our growing spaces: greenhouse, high tunnel, and field. This past year we used buckwheat as our primary summer cover crop. Buckwheat fit well into our crop rotation because it grows quickly, suppresses weeds, and provides a home for beneficial insects, including parasitic wasps that eat aphids. Our ornamental cabbage was aphid free this year and I believe that providing habitat for beneficial parasitic wasps played a big part in this.
Our fall cover crops included tillage radish interplanted with oats and peas. Tillage radish offers a couple of stellar benefits to the flower farmer. First, its deep taproot penetrates compacted soils, sometimes up to two feet or more! The radish dies in winter and decomposes in place, creating channels into the soil and food for micro-organisms. The second benefit of tillage radish is that is can be used as a bio-fumigant to treat some species of harmful nematodes, including root knot nematode, ring nematode, and soybean cyst nematodes. I’m not aware of flower farmers having big issues with nematodes, but veggie growers sure are excited about this application and our flower farms can have soil compaction problems.
Tillage radishes don’t add much organic matter to the soil, so we inter-planted with oats and peas. We chose oats because they can grow well into the fall and then winter-kill; cover crops that winter-kill are essential to us because they are easier to incorporate into the soil; we are working with only a rototiller. We added Austrian winter peas into the mix in hopes of getting a boost of nitrogen from the decomposition of the bacteria that live (and die) on the legume’s root nodules; when the bacterium decomposes nitrogen is released into the soil. Austrian winter peas can put on some bulk and when they are tilled in the spring they will be a good source of organic matter.
This fall we also experimented with inter-planting our larkspur with the oats. It was done simply enough with the help of our Earthway seeder. We planted alternating rows: larkspur, then oats, larkspur, then oats, etc. The idea here is that the oats will winter-kill, fall to the ground, and create mulch that the larkspur grows up through. We will keep you posted as to how this goes.
Compost is an important part of our soil fertility regimen. We are on limited space here in the city, and so we don’t compost—we buy it in. Local sources of consistently high quality compost have been hard to come by in our area this past year, so I organized twelve farmers to participate in a group buy of Vermont Compost products with delivery to our St. Louis region. For years I’ve heard flower and vegetable farmers swear buy Vermont Compost and I decided to see what all the hype is about.
All these efforts in combination are to keep the soil healthy, the micro-organisms fed and the flower harvest bountiful. Happy spring!