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STORIES FROM PATINA MEADOW
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STORIES FROM PATINA MEADOW

THE WHY BEHIND OUR PATINA MEADOW PRODUCE

Tucked in our Patina Home & Garden Farm Shop, you will now find organically grown produce - like cucumbers, edible flowers, and lettuce - grown by me, Leila (hi!), at our farm, Patina Meadow, located 10 minutes down the road.



The reason I wanted to stock farm fresh, organically grown produce in our shop is simple -- I think how our food is grown makes a fundamental difference in our health and the health of our whole community - humans, animals, insects, and microbes alike.



So today, I wanted to invite you behind the scenes of growing this produce, showcasing the process of creating our Market Garden (with the help of organic farm consultant, Peyton Cypress), and the why behind each step, so that you can further understand why how we grow our food is more important than we may expect.



We first started by bringing in a hefty layer of soil to amend our native clay soil. We did this mostly because our starting soil was very low in organic matter. Organic matter consists of the living (bacteria, fungi, earthworms, etc.), the dead (like decomposing plant material), and the very dead (the organic acids and substances that remain after the dead are decomposed). These three elements are ESSENTIAL for soil, plant, and human health. But why? Well, I am so glad you asked.



Plants need a few things to grow: water, light, air, and nutrients, like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, and about 20 others (we keep finding more elements that plants need in tiny amounts!) They get water from rain or irrigation, light from the sun or grow lights, and air from, well the air, but how they get nutrients is a bit more complicated and we are just starting to understand it.



Transport yourself back to elementary or middle school science class (attempt not to wince at the awkwardness), where you learned about photosynthesis -- the process of plants uptaking sunlight, water, and CO2 to create energy in the form of sugars to grow big and strong. My guess is that is where your plant education ended, but oh boy, that is just the beginning. Strap in.



While plants keep a lot of that energy for themselves, they also end up pumping some of those sugars and other by-products to their roots to be released into their root zone to feed the microbial life in the soil! Why? Because plants need these microbes to bring those nutrients I spoke about earlier. In natural soils, these nutrients are tied up in the dead organic matter, and the rocks, and plants are unable to access them. This is where microbial life like bacteria and fungi comes in. Through secreting organic acids and enzymes, bacteria, and fungi can extract these nutrients and eat up.



But if the bacteria and the fungi (some fungi plug into the roots of certain plants and deliver nutrients to them directly, but that's a whole other conversation!) are eating these nutrients, how are they making their way to the plant? Well, when something, like an earthworm or a predatory microbe, comes through and chomps up those guys, they take the nutrients they need, but they end up pooping out the rest, resulting in water-dissolvable nutrients that the plant can now take up. Then a bigger predator comes and eats that predator, and more nutrients are released, and on and on. Et voila! There you have it, the soil food web or "the poop loop", whichever name you prefer. There is a bit more to it, but that is the gist. This process is also similar to how we access the nutrients in our food -- we depend on a healthy gut microbiome to digest and make those essential nutrients available to us! Wild, I KNOW!


On one section of the garden, I am experimenting by using some of our sheep's wool as mulch! It keeps the soil covered, and is a great source of nitrogen.

Alright, so after establishing healthy soil, we planted a winter wheat cover crop to hold all of it in place for the rainy days of winter, and to make sure that all of that microbial life we just brought in had some yummy exudates to munch on.



When we were ready to start planting, we used a large tarp to smother the entire cover crop so it would die back, and incorporate into the soil, returning all the nutrients it took up to the soil for the microbes to digest again. After a few weeks, we pulled the tarp back, shaped our beds, and started the process of planting!



First, we used a broad fork to aerate the soil. We did this instead of tilling to keep the fungi, earthworms, and larger organisms intact, and to maintain the soil structure we worked so hard on creating.



Next, we fertilized the soil with an organic fertilizer, made with composted turkey manure, feather meal, and sulfate of potash -- all natural forms of nutrients that could become readily available to the plant.



Organic fertilizer is better for your plants because it is higher in insoluble nutrients, meaning the nutrients need to go through that "poop loop" to become accessible to your plants. Inorganic fertilizers are higher in soluble nutrients, meaning that you only need to add water to make them available to your plants. This may sound great, but alas, it is not.



Think if you had to eat in excess every time you drank water. You would probably get sick of that quickly, and it would require a lot of energy for you to digest all those excess nutrients. Well, plants are the same way. They end up spending a lot of their energy (in the form of sugar) digesting, energy that should be going toward building relationships with microbes and sustaining their health. The overuse of sugars also makes it that "conventional" produce is not as flavorful since by the time the vegetable or fruit hits your plate it is pooped.



Inorganic fertilizers also don't have those trace elements that organic matter has. For the most part, it is just a big ole dose of three macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These allow the plant to grow, but don't give the plant all the micronutrients, like zinc, selenium, and so much more, that they need, and we need. Hence the growth in the space needed on our shelves for vitamins and minerals. Another fun fact, the form of ammonia (plant-available nitrogen) that is found in inorganic fertilizer was first discovered by a German scientist in WW1 to make ammunition. The process that they discovered to create this ammonia, called the Haber-Bosch method, is now responsible for over 50% of the nitrogen in our bodies.



After fertilizing, we planted all the plants, and installed irrigation...



And after a few months, here we are!



The fruits of our labor are finally ripening and it is so lovely to see. I am so excited to be able to bring them to the store and share them with all of you. If you want to be the first to know about our future harvests, you can sign up for our SMS list!



If you want to learn more about what I wrote about today, I highly recommend the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham and the books by David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, specifically, What Your Food Ate and The Hidden Half of Nature.


If you have any questions, please leave them below! As you can tell, I love talking about this stuff. Thank you so much for reading. I hope you have a beautiful day.


Love,

Leila



9 Comments


As the tech support for our community garden in southern NM the scourge of our garden was the squash bug! The first year a new plot was planted with squash, no bugs. But the second year, lots! How do you control them in such a tightly planted area?

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Ah the squash bug! They are tough little guys. I struggled with them lots last year. Before I make recommendations, I will say that squash bugs are one of the most prolific bugs I've seen in my garden and in my community. I asked an organic pumpkin farmer how he deals with his squash bugs and he said, "I don't, I just plant way more than I need." With that said, there are three main things I would recommend: crop rotation, fertilizing, and succession planting. I would say try and never plant your squash in the same place two times in a row as they are more likely to return to the same area. The next step, and I thi…

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Wow! What an intricate process! I really appreciate you taking the time to write this post and educate us. Thank you for taking such care in growing nutrient dense food and sharing it with us at your shop Leila!

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Dear Leila,

It is a gift to watch you and your garden thrive!

Looking forward to sharing in the bounty…

xx

Mom

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Always smiling when receiving your emails! Each and every single one is lovely said and all the things going on there are amazing! Keep on going! You lift me up!

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Fascinating and very well written. You and my daughter would get along famously... you're speaking her language! I look forward to purchasing some of your well-loved, quality produce when we move to the area in two weeks.

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