Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Contemplating soil fertility and plant breeding.

So the hail marry of planting time has come, and though we are in the midst of a massive rainstorm which has dropped nearly six inches of much needed rain, quite steadily, since late Friday night and I got many of the crops in the ground prior to the sky opening up, I know that come tommorow I will be wading through the mud with my reliable pair of muck boots planting more, spreading compost around others, and generally making the rounds required of a life lived on a small sustainable farm. It's overwhelming sometimes.

I had considered using todays rain day as an opporotunity to blog about a lot of "possibilities" for our farm in the coming years or even posting some more of my politically motivated posts but blogging about what I could do or what I am considering doing or what is going on on the farm at the moment is somewhat useless without pictures to accompany the excersize and since it's raining and muddy and the birds and plants don't look at their best covered with mud and seedlings in and of themselves aren't particularly the best expressions of what a plant is capable of doing and since facebook has given me the opporotunity to do a bit of political rambling on the fly I decided I'd just wait until the season progresses a wee bit to get into the depths of all of those crosses or describing all the cool things I'm growing this year, or how I am growing.

Instead I was just thinking earlier today about observations I have made this planting season regarding soil fertility. Five years ago I started raising red worms and adding massive amounts of worm castings and organic matter to the soil along with foliar feeding and soil feeding via compost tea as well as rotatins legumes into and out of fields, on their own and along with various other crops (most often corn in a three sisters combination).

This year the soil is looking better than ever and a soil test revealed that everything is remarkably balanced, I am noticing improved tilth the farm over and improved germination (both due to fertility/drainage as well as seed selection) and I've also noticed a lot of colinization of plant roots by beneficial fungi as well as fungi blooms (mushrooms) through the fields. The earthworm population has increased amazingly and now that we have a relatively large flock of turkeys and guineas ranging there is a constant cycle of fertility and a cyclical movement of feeding of plant to animal to manure to worm to soil to plant. It is a beautiful thing to see that my ideas and my research are slowly paying off. In coming years we will continue to add compost residues to our soil and not much else other than cover crops and a bit of dolomitic (powdered) limestone to the soil or sulpher where needed and depending on crops.

This year as opposed to spreading massive amounts of compost accross the fields we chose instead to use only smaller amounts, but more concentrated on/around the plants themselves, potting up all of our seedlings in a mixture (La Bonne Terre) of garden soil, worm castings, thermophilic compost, and sand. The mixture upon potting up containd a high amount of unfinished bits and pieces and was a bit rough but full of composting worms, upon planting out I made the observation that the La Bonne Terre had broken down quite nicely into a thick rich humous with lots and lots of fungal colonization around the plant roots. In the garden this is very helpful but now that we are planting an orchard as we go along we are also improving bits of ground which are not used for annual cultivation. We have been working in this mixtures and variations of it around our perrinial crops as of late as well and also rabbit manure and ocassionally a bit of turkey manure. The growth and the health of our plants is outstanding.

A lot of folks are having issues with bagworms on their trees this year, we have had no problem thus far, likely due to the free ranging nature of our turkeys and guineas, I can only imagine how much fertility has been provided our farm from these sources, fertility provided particularly to trees which would normally have been harmed by the very pressence of these worms but now which benefit from them. Of course there is also the added benefit of a cut in the feed bill for feeding the birds from this and the gain in human food that it creates as well as profit for the farm in the way of eggs for eating and hatching, new birds for selling, and or meet for family or for sale from the farm.

I've been thinking a lot about a few experiments I'm keen to work on in the coming years regarding some of the perrinial crops we are working with.

We of course now have on hand two seperate accessions of white blackberries which we plan on making crosses between and selecting from to introduce even more diversity into these snowberries in the coming years, including thornless varieties.

I've also been trying to search out and find the old Carolina White/White Carolina/Pineberry strawberry. One of the earliest known true garden strawberries, white fruited and larger than an alpine on everbearing plants. Recently this variety was re-introduced into supermarkets in Europe as the pineberry, but the companies that reintroduced it are not being very honest in their marketing of this berry. I know of one commercial source in the US, The Strawberry Store, but everytime I check on availability they are sold out. The pineberry was once a favored variety of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and is spoken of highly in both his correspondence with other agriculturalists as well as in his garden book. It is the offspring of the very earliest crosses in a French Garden between Fragaria Virginia (wild alpine) and Fragaria Chiloensis (chiloneese/sand strawberry).

We have been tracking down some of the better flavored, more locally adapted, more productive, and larger type everbearing red strawberries to make some controlled as well as potentially uncontrolled crosses back and forth to our collection of about 7 white fruited alpine varieties. Selecting back for white fruited varieties that are everbearing, of amazing flavor, productive, day neutral, and of good size.

This week we will be recieving a shipment of Rio Grande and Eastern Wild turkeys as well for future selection towards our "Kiva" turkey which we spoke of in a previous blog post here. The kind of nice thing about this as well though is that we personally witnessed in the past two days a wild Eastern tom mounting a bronze hen of ours and there is at current count a flock of about 8 wild Eastern toms roaming the Southern flowing valley in our woodlot, meaning the possibility of obtaining some potential wild to domestic crosses this year is relatively high.

Anyhow, I feel better now that I've got a bit of phillosophy and some of my ideas down in digital format, hope you enjoy my ramblings, you'll just have to deal with the grammer and the spelling mistakes today as it is a lazy day and I don't want to spend to much time overthinking the basic ideas that are floating around in my head at the moment as there are so many things going on this time of year which must be done and or taken care of.

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