Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Local All Year Long, CSAs and Winter CSA Opportunities

Local Food is all the buzz! This just in...

The Boston Globe articles entitled "Locavores relish the challenges of winter" and "Fresh Idea for Supporting Agriculture".

Pisgah Mountain News article entitle "Community Supported Agriculture Growing in Popularity".

and a message from Blue Ridge Food Ventures:

"Blue Ridge Food Ventures is pleased to announce a new program to help complete the link between our local farmers who produce great fruits and vegetables spring, summer and fall—and consumers who want to enjoy this local produce all year round. We are basing our program on a successful Winter CSA at a kitchen incubator, called Winter Sun Farms, that was started in the Hudson River Valley. Now, BRFV is bringing Winter Sun Farms to western North Carolina. WSF—WNC is a CSA program taking local produce in peak season, then minimally processing and freezing it for distribution to CSA members in the winter months when fresh local produce is really hard to find.

Once a month from December through March, members will receive a box of frozen fruits and veggies. Each package will carry the name of the farm and farmer who grew it to strengthen the relationships that people want to have with the folks that grow their food.

Right now we would like to talk with farmers about the varieties they are planning on growing this season that are especially suited for processing and freezing. Examples might be broccoli, paste tomatoes, peppers, green beans, butternut squash, fall greens, small fruits, etc… We would like to contract with you for the things that you grow best and that will freeze or take processing the best. The goal for this first year is to enroll 100 members in the CSA. The first share will be ready for distribution in December 2009.

Please contact Laura Dominkovic ( ) so we can plan together how to make this a success for all."

This sounds like an awesome opportunity. What a great way to enjoy local produce all year long! If you or someone you know may be interested in this opportunity, please contact Laura.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Compost, Manure and Sawdust

Well it has been a little while since my last post and I apologize. I have been fielding many calls in my office and I have seen a recurring theme. I have had a number of calls on soil amendments and composting. These are always wonderful questions to get and it is exciting to see people thinking about alternatives to petroleum-based fertilizers.

One person who called had a source of free horse manure (lucky guy!). The manure was mixed with sawdust (this is not an unusual circumstance as sawdust and wood shavings are often used as bedding in stables) and he wanted to know if this would affect his vegetable crop.

Yes, it will!

Sawdust and wood shavings are very high in carbon content. When the microorganisms start breaking down the manure and sawdust they need energy. They get this energy from carbon and nitrogen. Because of the very high level of carbon in the sawdust, the microorganisms have an unbalanced diet and are in search of more and more nitrogen. Because these microorganisms can collect nitrogen more efficiently than plants due, the result is stunted plants. If you are using sawdust and manure or sawdust that has not been aged in anyway, you must add supplemental nitrogen.

The nitrogen that is recommended, ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) or ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) is chemically-based and I don't know of any organically available sources. If you are not taking an organic route, the nitrogen can be added to the manure/sawdust before land application or it can be worked into the soil after the manure has been applied.

To read more about this visit the Fact Sheet on Horse Manure Management: The Nitrogen Enhancement System and A Horse Owner's Guide to Good Stewardship, both are authored Randall James at Ohio State University Extension.

Another solution to this problem is to COMPOST the manure and sawdust. This is a great option for organic producers. Composting will also help break down weed seeds and other possible pathogens that the horses cannot do by themselves. Compost is also a great way to add both fertility and organic matter to your soil and to reduce the days to harvest restrictions that come with using raw manure.

The major components of compost are:
  1. "Brown stuff"- dried and dead stuff like leaves and pine needles. This is your CARBON.
  2. "Green stuff"- green leaves, vegetable scraps, leaf clippings, etc. This is your NITROGEN.
  3. OXYGEN. We need aerobic activity!
  4. WATER. Not too much, not too little.
So with the manure and sawdust you have plenty of "brown stuff", you need to construct a compost system that allows for air movement and the addition of proper moisture and "green stuff". It is also important that you have a thermometer with a long enough probe to track the temperature in the center of your compost pile. Temperature is critical to composting as it tells you when you need to add more oxygen or moisture.

Balance is Key to composting. Balancing water and oxygen and carbon and nitrogen is key to your composting success!

There are many designs out there for compost systems and you will have to choose what is right for you in your system. There are two types of composting styles that are recognized by the National Organic Program (NOP). They are the windrow method (long piles of materials that are turned regularly) and the aerated static pile method (pile is not turned, rather air is supplied through perforated pipes on the bottom of the pile). If you are an organic grower there are many regulations you need to follow for making your own or even purchasing compost, so check with your certifying agency.

To learn about the ins and outs of composting and how to construct your own composting system visit the following resources:

USDA composting site
Composting on Organic Farms
Extension: Making and Using Compost in Organic Agriculture
Debbie Roos comprehensive list of composting links

If you have questions, please come by to talk or stop by your local Cooperative Extension office to see your local Agriculture Agent!