Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beginning Farmer Must Read

One knows when a book is worth reading when time after time the book is recommend and referenced as a must read for a particular topic or genre. When it comes to laying out the foundation for what a beginning farmer needs to know in small market gardening on small amounts of land, Elitot Colemon's Book, The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener, earns the spotlight as a must read for fellow Iowans looking to get started in making a good living in growing food for a local community.

I found this excellent review on amazon by a Co-worker of the author:

"Practical idealists, the Shakers demonstrated that it is possible for man to create the environment and way of life he wants, not by complaining about the system but by building their own domain arranged to their liking. Eliot Coleman, farm manager of the Mountain School Program of Milton Academy in Vershire, Vermont, has demonstrated that it is possible to undertake small-scale, commercial farming and gardening without the use of harmful pesticides by using cost-effective, environmentally sustainable methods to produce spectacular results with economy of effort and means. By offering a wealth of ideas; by identifying the most efficient and practical machinery and tools; by offering simple and efficient production techniques; and advising on the most remunerative marketing methods, this book is for the gardener and small farmer who has an unfulfilled dream to established an organic enterprise with minimal expense. When low cost production methods are allied with the right machinery and marketing practices, the viability of the 1-5 acre farm producing high quality food is not only possible but also enjoyable and profitable.

The advantage enjoyed by the small farmer is quality. If the product is first class and in demand and you are a dependable supplier at reasonable cost there is never a problem finding customers. But it needs hard work and intelligence. When starting in the era of 'get big or get out' there were almost no models of commercially successful organic small farmers to provide inspiration and ideas and where they existed it was exhausting and neither cost effective nor efficient. But by seeking out the best from different parts of the world Coleman found the optimum to be about 2.5 acres per grower - enough to produce quality vegetables for 100 people. Produce from the school farm now set the quality standards for the area. He learned much from Helen and Scott Nearing - they were the most practically organized country people he has met - especially their skills in observation and planning. Coleman sets out the year's work on paper during the winter and has a notebook with sections for each crop. He rotates crops until he finds the optimum - the single most important practice in a multi-cropping program. "The 8-year rotation presented below is a good one to conclude with because it is the one I have followed since 1982. It has been well tested. I have thought about modifying it countless times but never have. Its virtues always seem to outweigh its defects, although that isn't to say it can't be improved. I'm sure it can. But it has been a dependable producer and I offer it here as a tried-and-true example of a successful rotational sequence that incorporates many crop benefits. The goal of this particular rotation is to grow 32 vegetable crops in adequate quantities to feed for a year the community of 60-some people who eat daily in the Mountain School dining hall. Since we have found that we can feed 40 people per acre, the rotation below represents 1.5 acres of land. The salad crops not included here are grown in a separate small salad garden close to the kitchen." However, the author points out that tomatoes do better being grown in the same place each year fertilized by their own waste.

Factors that affect plant growth - light, moisture, temperature, soil fertility, mineral balance, biotic life, weeds, pests, seeds, labor, planning and skill - need to be arranged to the plant's liking with the grower coordinating and combining them into a harmonious whole much like the conductor of an orchestra. Successful farmers understand that their role is to help the seed do what it is already determined to do. Good farming practices such as crop rotation, animal manures, green manures, cover crops, mixed cropping, mixed stocking, legumes, crop residues, and season extension have been used for generations, but removing the limiting factors to plant growth and generating a balanced soil fertility are ultimately the secret of success.

There are 22 chapters, each one dealing with an important element of success such as green manures, tillage, direct seeding, transplanting, weeds, pests, harvest, marketing, season extension. In addition there are three appendices on tools, the major vegetable crops and a one-page schematic outline of biological agriculture. If you plan to buy just one book on organic growing, you will find it difficult to beat this book."

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