BioSwirskii

Goggas….the good vs the bad & the ugly

Everyone knows that ladybugs are a gardener’s best friend, and when faced with an aphid infestation everyone’s first thought is,” Where are the ladybugs?”

Ladybugs are beautiful and extremely useful in the garden but there is so much more to IPM than beautiful ladybugs.  There are many aspects of IPM and it’s not just a quick fix, but more of an interconnected system of pest control.

 

 

Black bean aphids carry Bean Mosaic Virus from one one from to another.
Black bean aphids carry Bean Mosaic Virus from one farm or garden to another.

 

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has a long history in agriculture, of which South Africa is definitely a “Johnny Come Lately”, only beginning to use insects in the late 1990’s as a form of pest control. We have been slow adopters when it comes to this important tool in organic agriculture. IPM started as a science in the US in the early 1960’s but the Chinese were using crude forms of IPM on citrus trees as early as 300BC.

Very basically, IPM is using a mix of approved chemicals and insects to reduce the population of pests below a point of acceptable economic damage. The point of acceptable economic damage will differ from farm to farm and crop to crop. Suffice to say that small scale farmers and home gardeners will experience a far greater percentage of damage in a shorter space of time than a commercial farmer.

So nature creates balance, and sorts out all the baddies right? So if that’s the case, what happened to all of our beneficials then?

First-off what needs to be understood is that beneficial insects have a really tough time. They need pests to multiply efficiently and surprisingly, the pest “crop” actually needs to be a clean and healthy pest crop.

If the pests were sprayed with chemical pesticides and they in turn build up a tolerance to the pesticide, they will kill the beneficial population off. Think of the owls that die from eating rats and mice that have been poisoned. This is exactly the same, just on a smaller level.

Gooseberry plant showing a severe Red Spider Mite infestation
Gooseberry plant showing a severe Red Spider Mite infestation

 

Farmers very often have to increase the pesticide dose as the pests have built up a resistance. Or even scarier, they will mix pesticides to increase the efficacy or just to save money by only spraying once. All of this allows pests to build up tolerances to pesticides. This is critical when two different pesticides are mixed for two separate target species, the one pesticide has no effect and is absorbed into non-target pests, but still kills off the beneficials.

This is the single most common reason for low beneficial insect populations worldwide. The beneficials are actually killed off by the pests they are trying to control, as the pests will carry a pesticide load that is toxic to any beneficials.

In addition to the pests actually killing off the insects that are predating on them, pesticide residues are persistent in the environment, and will have a lasting negative effect on any beneficial population that is trying to establish itself. So the farmer or gardener that regularly uses any form of chemical pesticide, will not only be killing off the “target pest”, but any beneficial that is trying to establish itself too.

For home gardeners and small scale farmers, you may be doing everything right on your own property, but you are unable to control what is happening at your neighbours’. What your neighbours do, will have a direct impact on beneficial insect populations as well as pest loads on your property.

Aphidius parasitic wasp laying an egg in an aphid
Aphidius parasitic wasp laying an egg in an aphid

 

The most important question when introducing IPM’s onto your property is: Are they safe for the environment?

Common questions are; Will these guys breed up and harm the environment? other beneficials? create a plague? etc etc.

These are good questions to ask, and it’s critically important for people to ask the questions, as is providing the correct answers to these questions.

Water hyacinth blocking light and starving water of oxygen
Water hyacinth blocking light and starving water of oxygen

One analogy that was recently brought up is the Water Hyacinth that has been released into our waterways.
The Water Hyacinth was smuggled/released into South Africa illegally in the early 1900’s mainly for its beautiful flowers in waterscapes. It has now become a major invasive weed and has created significant environmental and economic damage.
For more information on how it’s being controlled, please see here. It must also be noted that IPM’s are currently being used to try and combat Water Hyacinth, but not all of them will adapt to our environment.

When it comes to insects, they are a lot harder to control, one needs to be more circumspect and rightly so.

The Harlequin ladybug is one invasive insect that was probably unintentionally introduced when someone probably smuggled a plant cutting(s) with a few eggs attached into South Africa.

This ladybug has in a matter of a few short years, invaded every province in the country, and has developed into a major problem, even predating on our own smaller indigenous ladybugs. (This is the exact reason why one should not smuggle plant/seed material into the country.)

The harlequin ladybug was never released as an IPM agent and was never subjected to the stringent vetting and bio-control process required when bringing any new IPM agent into the country. The Harlequin Ladybug is such a massive issue that a citizen science project has been established. To get involved click here.

It is interesting to note that the majority of invasive species are smuggled in by people that think they are smart by bucking the system. Yes, there are accidental releases (Khakibos and the Argentine ant come to mind) but by far it is people that break our Bio-sanitary laws that are the greatest problem.

Are the BioBee IPM’s that we supply, safe?

This is an important question and one that properly needs to be addressed. I’m going to run through a number of points below, and any one of them will hold up their own, however all of them combined should give you real peace-of-mind.

  • First off these beneficial insects have gone through years, yes, years of testing and vetting via DAFF to ensure that they will not have any detrimental impact on our environment. In addition, private agricultural Co-Op’s have done their own investigations and studies to ensure that they will do no harm to our local fauna and flora. These scientists have, over the years built up a body of evidence and testing protocols to ensure that there are no adverse effects to the environment.
  • It is critically important to note that every single one of these IPM’s have previously and independently established themselves in South Africa prior to being released as a commercial IPM product. How they became naturalised is unknown, however as with the Harlequin ladybug example above they were probably imported along with plant material either legally or illegally. DAFF will not issue an import permit for any organism that does not already occur in South Africa.
  • Some of our IPM’s are locally bred and others are imported on permit. They have been vetted and that vetting is a continuous, ongoing process. At any point, approval can be recalled if anything untoward is found.
  • In South Africa BioBee IPM’s have been released onto thousands of hectares in various provinces in both open field and enclosed greenhouses and a very wide array of crops from orchards, vineyards, open field vegetable production, ornamentals like roses, carnation etc and in enclosed controlled greenhouse environments and have been monitored since 1999.This gives 18 years real solid data that has been used to verify that none of these IPM’s have had any negative or detrimental impact to our environment.
  • One argument that I hear is: “This is corporate agriculture and they will do anything to make a quick buck.”  Yeah…actually, it’s faster, cheaper and far easier just to spray pesticides.
  • If you look through our IPM catalogue, you will note that the majority of these IPM’s have a very narrow target pest range. Once the pest is gone, the IPM will invariably die out as they cannot feed off other pests. Those that have a more catholic diet and eat a variety of pests will be able to control more pests for longer, but once again cannot make the jump to an alternate food source and will again die out.
  • Many of our common pests that that are targeted with IPM are imported invasive pests that do not have any natural enemies in South Africa, which is why they are so successful. If you are looking for a predator to control these pests you will have to get a predator that does not occur here. The added benefit of this is that one can be selective and only choose a predator that is pest specific, targeting only that pest. Which is exactly what BioBee has done.

If you look at all of the reasons above, either singularly or combined, you will see that this is not a light endeavour just to make a quick buck, we are here for the long-haul.

Predatory Swirskii mite busy sucking the juices out of a two spotted mite. (Red Spider mite)
Predatory Swirskii mite busy sucking the juices out of a two spotted mite. (Red Spider mite)

 

Why is Livingseeds selling IPM’s?

Very simply, many of our clients have asked us to source IPM’s via our Newsletter and via our Facebook page.

We have done the due diligence, and BioBee IPM’s are the best available, they have the longest track-record and provide tangible solutions that work.

Typically, IPM’s are un-affordable to the average home gardener or small scale farmer, there are many costs that need to be accounted for and it only makes sense if these are sold in large volumes to commercial farmers.

We have an agreement with BioBee that we are able to use the purchasing power of thousands of home gardeners and small scale farmers across the country to enable access to these important IPM’s to small scale users.

If you are a small scale farmer or home gardener, then Livingseeds is your only source for the most comprehensive and more importantly, affordable range of IPM’s.

 

How to use IPM’s

It needs to be understood that using IPM’s is a combination of using both beneficial insects and approved pesticides. Livingseeds has only supplied BioGrow organically certified pesticides for many years. It’s what we use on our farm, and we know that they work.

BioBee has confirmed that they have approved all the BioGrow products as complimentary treatments for use in conjunction with their IPM products. (The two companies are unrelated)

It’s very interesting to know that certain of the BioGrow products actually stimulate the breeding of certain beneficials, once again proving to us that we have made the correct choices from the very beginning, choosing only the best products for our customers.

We would strongly recommend that you release the IPM’s in the manner directed on our website and/or on the packaging. If it is not done correctly, they will not work.

Certain IPM’s need to have any symbiotic ants removed, as the ants will attack the beneficials to protect the aphids / mealybugs. The ants will also transfer the pests to other plants, further spreading your pest infestation. The easiest way to do this is to mix Borax and Sugar in a 50:50 ratio with a little water, to make it very slightly moist. Place this in a jar lid or bottle cap near the ants nest, the ants are drawn to the sugar, and the borax will alter their internal pH, killing them. This mix is 100% safe and will not harm any other animals or fish.

Next, use our BioGrow products at the lowest dose recommended on the bottle in conjunction with your IPM release.

We have solutions for many of the most common insect pests that you as a home gardener will encounter, very often one beneficial will control more than one pest in your garden.

Here is a brief rundown of pests that are controlled by beneficials and the appropriate IPM solution.

Aphids
BioAphidius
BioNesidiocoris
BioOrius

Spider mites
BioNesidiocoris
BioPersimilis
BioSwirskii

Whitefly
BioNesidiocoris
BioOrius
BioSwirskii

Mealybugs
BioPerminutus
BioCryptolaemus
BioAnagyrus

Leafminer
BioDiglyphus
BioNesidiocoris

Thrips
BioSwirskii
BioOrius
BioNesidiocoris

Discounted Packages

Aphid/Mite/Whitefly package

Mealybug/Softscale Package

Spider-mite Eliminator

Please note: Not all target pests are covered (example not all aphids are equal, certain beneficials will only attack certain aphid species).

Please make sure that you choose the appropriate beneficial, if you need assistance please call our offices.  073 141 7101

BioSwirskii

Livingseeds, is the best heirloom seed company.

Livingseeds is the best seed company in South Africa.

Yes, I know I’m biased, being the owner of Livingseeds brings me immense pride and joy. We know that what we do is so important for the South African gardener, farmer and smallholder, in fact for anyone that is concerned with food security, seed freedom and seed saving.

There are many things that Livingseeds can claim to be the best at: We were the first Heirloom seed company in SA, we are the largest Heirloom seed company in SA and we have the largest selection of Heirloom seed varieties that are locally grown.  Many local heirloom seed companies use Livingseeds either as their own seed supplier or as their yardstick to ascertain quality.

harvest_kids

I could go on, however, for this article, I’m going to concentrate on one single aspect: Our seed quality.

Seed quality for a seed company, is paramount!

At the end of the day, we know that our customers will gauge us by our seed quality, and every interaction is typically based off of the initial experience.

Many customers have come to us and told us how happy they are to receive our seed and how great our germination is. Good quality seed with fantastic germination is of utmost importance to us and we appreciate the affirmations we are getting from gardeners and growers from all walks of life. It is just as important for us that the beginner gardener has the same success as the expert growers out there.

The focus of Livingseeds is very simple. We provide the very best heirloom vegetable seed in South Africa.

So how do we know that we have the best seed in South Africa?

Let me tell you a story, one that I’m very proud of.

Thomas_Linders

Thomas Linders is a very well-known permaculturist in South Africa. He’s been practising in South Africa for over 30 years, with his Permaculture journey starting long before that in Switzerland, so he has been around for a while.

He runs the Rosendal Permaculture Institute at Waaipoort Farm in the Free State and as such, is widely recognised as an authority in what he does.

In 2016 I was at a sustainability show in Pretoria and Thomas started chatting to me.

The story that transpired is for me, one great honour. Thomas related that over the years they had run experiments with the offerings from various seed suppliers and producers in South Africa. Due to the nature of permaculture, diversity is of paramount importance to ensure that the system is able to feed back into itself, and provide the incredible harvests that permaculture is known for.

To achieve this there is no single seed supplier that can supply all their needs, and by necessity permaculturists need to order from numerous seed suppliers. It must also be noted that the various seed companies, very often stock the same varieties. So naturally there is some over-lap.

Over the years, Thomas has ordered from every single seed supplier in South Africa, and in doing so he has been able to sample the wares that each supplier has on offer.

So now it comes down to the actual seed quality. Thomas and his people have planted seed from all of the various suppliers’ in real world applications. These were not specialist, double-blind lab tests, but practical field trials, where seed from various local seed suppliers were planted primarily for production.

The seed was planted correctly, by knowledgeable people in the correct manner, which, if you think about it, is the best way to assess the quality of the seed.

Thomas told me that over the years of planting locally supplied seed, every year, Livingseeds seeds came out as the best quality seed, both in terms of germination and in terms of actual quality of the plants produced.

What I find most impressive is that he said that these results were the same EVERY year, which goes to show that our seed quality is consistent year after year.

For a seed company, having someone that has intimate knowledge of seed, seed sowing practices and an in depth knowledge of growing practices say that your seed specifically, has a noticeably better germination that any other supplier, is high praise indeed.

We do a number of things that separates us from our competition, we know that we are the best seed company in South Africa, we lead and our competition follows, every year.

For us being listed by a credible authority, that is 100% external to Livingseeds, as having the best quality seed in South Africa, is probably the highest form of praise.

NOTE: Thomas Linders has not, and will not receive any compensation for this.

This article was written by myself (Sean Freeman) and I have received permission from Thomas to use his name.

 

BioSwirskii

2017 Livingseeds Vegetable Exhibition.

Calling all veggie growers!!! If you have an awesome veggie garden, your produce is outstanding and everyone loves the food that comes out of your garden, it may be time to put your growing skills to the real test.

The big question is, how well does your produce rank against other veggie growers?

Everyone tells you that your tomatoes are the best, or that they have never eaten cucumbers as delicious as yours.

Everyone likes to think they grow the best produce, but the real question is… “is it really the best? Can your produce win a Vegetable Exhibition?”

This is your chance to find out how green your fingers really are. Come and exhibit your prize veggies at our Inaugural Vegetable Exhibition. This will give you a good idea of how well your garden’s produce ranks, and will also allow you to compare your best produce against the best produce of other growers in the region.

Come and show off your produce at the 2017 Livingseeds Vegetable Exhibition.
Come and show off your produce at the 2017 Livingseeds Vegetable Exhibition.

 

For a number of years now, it has been on my heart to host a real Vegetable Exhibition. The idea is to provide a platform for all veggie gardeners and farmers to bring their produce and show it off for others to see. At the same time they can rank their produce against other growers. Every veggie grower believes that their produce is the best, and this is the true test.

We have such great customers and they often send us pic’s of their produce and gardens. We are excited to have an opportunity to meet you guys in person, see and touch your produce and just have a great day chatting about veggies.

 

Show-Carrots

This is the inaugural Livingseeds Vegetable Exhibition, and looking at the responses so far, the competition is bound to be tough and exciting.

The whole idea is for you to have a great day, with some friendly competition and hopefully at the end of the day, you get to leave with bragging rights for the next year. Networking and chatting with other growers is also the best way to learn new and interesting techniques that can give you the edge for the following year. Who knows, you may even make some interesting new friends and meet some great gardening neighbours.

The Vegetable Exhibition is based on international show standards, and our intention is to develop this into a world class event over the next few years. As it’s our first year, we have relaxed a few of the conditions and requirements.

How to Enter.

This year it is very simple.

Let us know that you are keen to bring some produce, and then arrive within the specified time on the 9th of April to stage your veggies.

Please note that we have put together a show schedule and judging rules that need to be adhered to, so please make sure you download them and read them.

This year, there will be no charge to enter and exhibit, you will however have to pay the standard show entry of R40 per car.

The cool thing is that you can enter as many vegetable classes as you wish at no cost. So if you have a wildly productive garden, then bring your produce, and show it off.

There are categories for almost every vegetable that you can imagine, and even a few fun categories…. just for the fun of it.

The Exhibition will be held on Sunday the 9th of April at the Walkerville Agricultural Show.  The Show organizers have given us the use of the annex to allow us to put this exhibition on.

We will have ribbons, certificates and great prizes for the top winners in each class. As well and an overall Exhibition winner for the exhibitor that accumulates the highest score on the day.

We are looking forward to an exciting day filled with amazing vegetables and awesome grower’s tales! Come along, with or without an exhibit. We’d love to meet you and hear all your Veggie tales!

 

BioSwirskii

Save Water, use Drip Irrigation

With the drought that we are experiencing watering your garden is a real chore.  Drip irrigation is a must in your garden.

Gardening in drought conditions is difficult, especially now that severe water restrictions are in place. The drought has the added effect of increasing the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, so home gardeners are turning to their own gardens to feed their families. The only problem now is that cannot use hoses and sprinklers to water these cost saving gardens. Buckets are not efficient and the only reason you can use them is that the labour required to carry buckets is the disincentive to water the garden.

With drip irrigation, that issue is solved as you are able to precisely water your plants and there is no wastage.

This is our story on how we saved close on 90% of our farms water consumption as well as thousands of Rands every month.

Looking down a newly planted line of tomato seedlings.
Looking down a newly planted line of tomato seedlings.

For a long time Livingseeds Farm relied on a patchwork of different sprinkler systems in our fields. These sprinklers where bought with small fund allocations, as and when we needed to expand. They were made up of 3 or 4 disparate makes that just never did exactly what we needed them to do.

As we irrigated from a borehole, if we needed to run the sprinklers, it would run directly off the borehole pump. So, if we wanted to water just a small section the borehole pump ran. We found that to ‘save’ on the electricity that was being used, we would actually over-water certain sections, and this had its own set complications with diseases, over-watering etc.

In the spring of 2010 we made the move from overhead sprinklers to drip irrigation. The outlay was painful for the first month, however it was a real eye-opener over the next few months. We also doubled our planting area at the same time, as I figured that we may as well just bite the bullet and roll out a larger drip system in one go.

Immediately our Eskom bill dropped by R5k per month (note that this was pre Eskom rate hikes) and the amount of water we required to irrigate dropped by 80%! Yes an 80% water reduction on double the land use. (We have since installed a solar borehole pump, further reducing our Eskom dependency, but that’s a different story)

Combined with a regular and heavy mulching regime, drip irrigation could see you saving close on 90% of your vegetable garden watering bill.

An heirloom tomato seedling flourishing with drip irrigation.
An heirloom tomato seedling flourishing with drip irrigation.

So, to say that we are a little biased when it comes to drip irrigation is an understatement.

Our system has been designed around agricultural grade drip system. We have used this grade system on Livingseeds Farm from the last 6 years and apart from the occasional punctured line, they are still operating flawlessly. Our winters can drop to -15 and our summers peak at 40+, so you can rest assured that this is not a cheap retail grade drip system.

The emitters run at 1lt per hour at 1 bar, the water is directed at exactly the point that you want it and there is no wastage.
Because it only runs at 1 bar, there is no need to open your tap to full pressure, just a slight opening of your tap will give you more than enough pressure to run this system.
The kit comes with a full colour 13 page manual that will help you install your drip system in a matter of hours.

3 sizes are available.

30 SQM

60SQM

100SQM

BioSwirskii

Succession Planting: Do it correctly.

The two biggest assets that you as a home veggie gardener have in your Spring and Summer garden are Open Pollinated Heirloom vegetable seeds, and Succession planting.

There are many reason why we plant Heirloom seed in our gardens, one of the biggest benefits to the home gardener is that they do not all ripen at the same time.

Industrial hybrid seed needs 100% uniformity. They build machines to plant, maintain and harvest crops, if the crops are not 100% uniform, the machines don’t work properly and the harvest is delayed or messed up. Simply put, commercial farmers need to harvest the entire field on the same day. For that, the plants need to be uniform, and special seed is bred for just that reason.
With Heirloom seed, the trait of uneven ripening is perfect for home gardeners, as nobody wants a glut of any vegetable in the same week. As a home gardener, the last thing you want, is to be required to harvest everything at the same time and either have to give, or if ripens at the wrong time and you can’t process, throw most of your crop away. What you are looking for is staggered and uneven ripening. This will allow you to use and process your crops over an extended period.

You can plan and use the uneven ripening of heirloom seed to your advantage. It’s easy to spread that harvest of a number of weeks or months, and that’s just perfect! It still allows you some extra to be charitable with, and your planting just goes so much further.

Succession planting is the next weapon in the home gardeners arsenal. To be used effectively, you need to understand how it works. It’s no good just planting all your seeds every week or two weeks in order to have a staggered harvest. And unfortunately is how most people understand succession planting. The most common explanation by ‘experts’ is to just plant every X days or weeks. Personally I’m not a fan of this technique as people often miss a ‘pre-set’ day and then give up as they missed their critical day.

Proper succession planting is used with the understanding that certain crops and varieties have a bearing ‘sweet spot’, and it’s making good use of that sweet spot, and then having another variety waiting in the wings to replace it.

Certain crops lend themselves to succession planting and others not. Long season crops like onions and garlic, and perennial crops like asparagus and artichokes are just pointless being succession planted. Plant them once in a dedicated bed and harvest / process when ready.

tomato_seedlings
Tomato seedlings in one of our tunnels. These will produce next seasons seed.

So onto the meat of how to use succession planting.

Check your maturity dates on the varieties that you are looking to plant.

1) Different varieties if planted on the same day will have different maturity dates.

A good example is Tomatoes. (Note that these dates are from transplant.)

Most indeterminate tomatoes will start producing from around 85 – 90 days. And they can produce in well fed soil for 2-3 months. So in effect you only need to replant tomatoes every 2 months or so.

If you add a short season determinate tomato into your planting, you can get sun ripened salad tomatoes in 65 or 75 days, that’s almost a month off your first harvest date!

The nice part about this method is that even though you are harvesting tomatoes continuously, each variety tastes different and lends itself to different styles of cooking, ensuring that you don’t get tired of eating the same crop every week.

2) Look at what type crop you are planting.

Tender Delight Bush beans a real winner in the garden
Tender Delight Bush beans a real winner in the garden

 

Let’s use Bush Beans for this example. It will start bearing from around 55 days and will bear well, for a good 6-8 weeks (yes I know you can push it further).
So it makes sense to replant Bush Beans every 6 weeks to replace your production stock with young vigorous plants.

Adding Runner beans changes this dynamic, as they only start giving beans at 8 or 9 weeks, but will produce very well if picked over properly for a solid 3 months. So only plant a new runner bean crop every 8-10 weeks.

3) Cut once crops like heading lettuce can be put on a stricter schedule.

It’s pretty easy to work out how many your family will need on a weekly basis. And then plant to that schedule every 2-3 weeks. However, here again, using different lettuce varieties can extend your harvest. Loose leaf varieties are generally more heat adapted, and they can tolerate a bit of shade, which will slow down the bolting and extend the harvest.

Mixed lettuce look great in the garden and on your plate.
Mixed lettuce look great in the garden and on your plate.

 

When watching your garden progress over the season, if you see that something is not working. Lift it, don’t try and coax an unhappy plant, rather replace it with seedlings that you have waiting for garden space.

Having a constant seedling supply is important and you will be using crops out of your garden, as these are consumed, they will open up space for a new crop to go in. So either grow your own or order some in.

BioSwirskii

Are GMO Potatoes sold in South Africa?

The simple answer is no. For a number of years (almost 12 in fact) the ARC has been trying to get the GMO potato SpuntaG2 approved for production and sale in South Africa. Fortunately, the application was declined twice, for a few good reasons. Concerns over health reasons, as the potato produces an insecticidal protein in its cells. In addition the potato is resistant to Tuber Moth and this is not considered a major pest in South Africa. And finally, no actual benefit could be shown to commercial or small scale farmers in South Africa, therefore the application was turned down.

Carisma_Seed_Potatoes

So, rest in comfort. None of the potatoes that you buy on the shelves in South Africa are Genetically Infected. All you need to worry about is choosing the correct potato for the dish you are preparing.

There is however a huge shortage of locally available seed potatoes in South Africa, a number of harvests have been denied disease-free certification. Unable to be planted for harvest, they are thus sold on the market as table potatoes. This is in addition to the severe drought that we experienced last season, potato prices are never going to be at the R25/per bag that we got so accustomed to buying them at. The new normal is R80 -R100 per pocket.

Do not fear, there is nothing wrong with the table potatoes, they are 100% edible, they just cannot be planed to create a crop. One of the main problems for home gardeners is that they will plant a sprouting store-bought potato. This is false economy and could dramatically affect the harvests of related crops. Most virus and diseases that affect potatoes will also affect Tomatoes, Peppers, Chillies and Brinjals. So the few ‘cheap’ sprouting potatoes has the potential to adversely affect other crops for years to come, as the disease remains in the soil.

One of the best ways to get the best potatoes is to plant your own certified seed potatoes. Livingseeds has a selection of certified seed potatoes that are ready for planting.

BioSwirskii

Organic Cutworm control in the garden

Cutworms are the bane of a gardeners life, when planting out seedlings cutworms can make short work of all of your diligent growing out.

There are a number of different ways to protect your plants against cutworms and the most commonly recommended solution is to plant the seedling into a collar (or grow them in a collar) these collars can be cardboard tubes like toilet rolls or even PVC tubes.

This is a great idea, especially if you only have a few seedlings to plant out. However here on Livingseeds Farm we plant out thousands of seedlings and that adds up to a lot of toilet rolls.

I have heard and read about using soil calcium to combat cutworms, and that soils that have a proper calcium availability will have a lower or no cutworm incidence. I’m not sure if it’s soil pH or if it’s the actual calcium availability? However, looking at what we have experienced over the last two years I think its the physical calcium that makes the difference.

So, all very good and wonderful, how do we go about proving it. This is all anecdotal and it’s pretty hard to prove conclusively, however read along and see what we have found.

Typically here on Livingseeds Farm, we never had any specific cutworm program besides going into the tunnels early in the morning and manually catching the cutworms either in the act or just post act. Cutworms typically do their dirty work early in the morning and catching them is simple. As long as it’s done within an hour to two of the decapitation, they can be found by scratching around the severed seedling and collecting all the cutworms. They are typically found in a 2-6 cm zone around the seedling and about 1 or 2 cm deep. These were then fed with glee and much appreciation to our laying hens, who turned them into lovely eggs for us.

Tunnel with about 300 heirllom tomato plants. Sheaves of wheat are drying waiting to be threshed.
Tunnel with about 300 heirloom tomato plants. Sheaves of wheat are drying waiting to be threshed.

We would lose about 10-15% of our seedlings every year and basically accepted the fact that this was part of the deal when growing organically and not wanting to use pesticides.

I had been speaking to a few people about the Calcium – Cutworm theory, and 90% of the people shot the idea down as a waste of time. Always up for a challenge and proving people wrong I though we would give it a bash.

Knowing that all calcium is not created equal I decided to do a few simple tests. The kind that are easy and simple to replicate in the garden or in our case, in the fields.

Just a quick look at the different Calcium’s available to the gardener. (No need to go into cations anions and CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) of soil and how things are locked up and released. Suffice to say it’s interesting and very important, but not right now.)

Dolomitic Calcium is the cheapest, has the lowest availability, and takes years and years ….. and years to become available. Has a high Magnesium ratio that when it’s release, unfortunately also locks up other elements and tends to harden up your soil.

Calcitic Lime also known as Landbou Kalk, comes in various “kinds or sources and grades” and is the most commonly available. This is what is mostly sold as gardening lime. Nothing wrong with it and it works. (Again depending on the source / quality)

Bone Meal a superb source of highly available calcium and is held beautifully in the soil, it’s readily absorbed and is a much preferred source of calcium.

Gypsum. The most highly available source of calcium, also has a good ration of sulphur. If you are low in calcium this is a great way to fix a shortage very quickly as the plants can use it almost immediately. The Sulpher (anion) is locked onto the calcium (cation) making it freely available for absorption.

OK, onto our cutworm story. Last year we started our trials in two of our tunnels and found the following. (Both tunnels were planted to tomatoes)

All of the other tunnels were treated as normal and we harvested cutworms every morning for our hens.

In one tunnel we added in Calcitic Lime (Landbou Kalk) at around 150-200 gr per running meter and planted into the soil. Our cutworm activity was not noticeably reduced, and we had to control by hand.

In the second tunnel we used the Talborne Organics Vita Bone Phos at a similar rate. There was less cutworm activity, but we still had losses in the tunnel. There was a clear drop in cutworm activity and I felt it was well worth pursuing the reasoning that calcium reduces cutworm activity.

I decided that this year I would do a bit more to test this theory out. We ran the following calcium regimen in all of our tunnels and any open beds where we transplanted seedlings.

First the Vita Bone Phos was added to the soil (at approximately 150- 200 gr per running meter) and lightly worked into the top 5 cm of soil. The seedlings were planted directly into the soil along a drip line and then a tablespoon of the BonePhos around the seedling.

5 week old tomato seedling with NGP Soil Build around the base.
5 week old tomato seedling with BonePhos around the base.

The tunnel where we had the Vita Bone Phos in last year had no seedling losses at all. We have to date lost only 6 seedlings this year, we have planted out thousands, both in tunnels and in open ground.

So do I believe that calcium stops cutworms, oh yes 100%. It just needs to be the right calcium.

Our seedling loss as a percentage this year (based on calcium treated soil) is less than 0.25% !! Going from a 10% loss every year to .25% is a huge drop.

The only place that we did not do the calcium treatment was on the Corn and Bean plantings. It’s noteworthy to see that we lost 15-20 % of our bean and corn plantings. What we also did not do, was the cutworm follow-up every morning in the bean and corn fields, so the damage was higher as we were not concentrating our efforts there. We were more concerned at what was happening (or not happening) with the calcium treated seedlings. Patting ourselves on the back and revelling in getting a grip on the cutworms by using the soil against them. By the time we woke up, the damage was already noticeable in the untreated areas.

Talborne organic Vita Veg and Vita Bone Phos
Talborne organic Vita Veg and Vita Bone Phos

 

My recipe now for cutworms, not just scratch them out manually. Add in 150 – 200 gr of Vita Bone Phos per running meter, and sprinkle just one tablespoon of BonePhos around each seedling. It’s simple, 100% organic, improves your soil quality and most importantly, IT WORKS!

 

BioSwirskii

2013 Standard Bank / Livingseeds Giant Pumpkin Competition @ The R59 Shed.

Saturday the 6th of April saw the culmination of a whole season’s worth of work for many of our competitors in the Standard Bank / Livingseeds Giant Pumpkin Competition at the R59 Shed.

 

Wow, what a day it was, the excitement started building from early in the morning when the first competitors started dropping their entries off.

John McChlery MD of Green's Greens,the brainchild of the competition, being interviewed on 90.6 VCR
John McChlery MD of Green's Greens,the brainchild of the competition, being interviewed on 90.6 VCR

First let me go back a few months and give you some background on this competition. John McChlery is the MD of Green’s Greens, a major supplier of farm fresh veggies to all of the supermarket groups. John was the brain behind this competition. He likes to deny it and push others to the forefront, however this competition would never have gotten off the ground without his dedication and effort.

This competition was made possible by the generous support of Standard Bank who put up the main prize money, and arranged for numerous activities and goodies for the kids on the day, as well as all of the eye-catching banners that lined the R59 Highway, and created an air of festivity within the R59 Shed. Without Standard Bank we would never have had such a successful competition. Everyone at The R59 Shed, Green’s Greens, Livingseeds, and Talborne Organics are honored to have Standard Bank as our headline sponsor.

So back to the day under discussion.

The first few entrants, lined up.
The first few entrants, lined up.

Saturday dawned bright with the blue Standard Bank banners very effectively painting our section of the R 59 blue. Everyone that drove past us knew that Standard Bank had something big going on here.
The day started off a bit slowly and by 10:00 we only had about 8 or 9 pumpkins lined up outside at the weigh-in station. This did lead to a bit of concern amongst the organizers. Thankfully we were soon inundated with people dropping their prize-winning hopefuls off, and we had at least two stages where we had a few cars lined up with giant pumpkins ready to be offloaded.

 

Dawie and Ashish from Scale Tronics ready for the day.
Dawie and Ashish from Scale Tronics ready for the day

The Weigh-In Station was managed by the very capable guys from Scale Tronic Services who had a selection of scales there to handle everything up to a 600Kg behemoth, unfortunately that scale was never tested to its full capacity. We are however hoping that in the next year or so we will be doing a bit of limit testing on a few of Scale Tronics’ wares. It was really comforting to note that these guys had SABS approved certificates for their scales available for anyone that queried the veracity of their instrumentation. And naturally one or two people did query the reliability of the two scales used to weigh the pumpkins. Dawie Nortje and Ashish Mahase of Scale Tronic Services oversaw the critical element of weighing all the entries, and did an exceptional job of doing it quickly, accurately and correctly.

Talborne Organics has been a very supportive sponsor from the first day. In September 2012 they supplied organic seed starter packs for all the competitors, and I know that many of the competitors used their products to either feed or protect their precious giants. Talborne Organics also supplied prizes for every prize category in the competition.

At 12:00 we started the official weigh-in process and all entries were carried onto the main platform for weighing. All entries were weighed on the same platform scale to ensure that no discrepancies or challenges were possible. A total of 49 pumpkins were entered into the competition.

This being our inaugural competition, every single entrant was a first time Giant Pumpkin Grower, we are very proud of the effort made by each and every entrant. To all of the entrants, Thank you guys!!! It is your effort over the last few months that made this day a success.
To this end we had a number of smaller prizes that were awarded in various categories to ensure that people were recognized for their efforts.

In total 48 Giant Pumpkins were entered.
In total 49 Giant Pumpkins were entered.

Here are a few interesting facts of the day.

1) The type of Pumpkin was the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin
2) A total of 49 Pumpkins were entered
3) 2142.30 was the total combined weight of all of the pumpkins entered.
4) The average weight was 43.72
5) Over 20 pumpkins were donated to various schools, charities and churches in the area to help feed the underprivileged.

The top 3 Giant Pumpkins were
1) 111.80Kgs Entered by Shirley Olivier.
2) 95.60Kgs  Entered By Dirk Rabie
3) 87.80Kgs entered by Team Vera

The winning Pumpkins from left to right. 1st Shirley Olivier, 2nd Dirk Rabie and 3rd Team Vera
The winning Pumpkins from left to right. 1st Shirley Olivier, 2nd Dirk Rabie and 3rd Team Vera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Junior competition
1)    68.80Kgs entered by Letsema Home School
2)    66.80Kgs  entered by Janna Pienaar
3)    61.40Kgs entered by Megan McChlery
It  can be seen that the competition was tight and there was very little spread between 1st and 3rd places in both categories.

Smallest Giant Pumpkin went to Letsema Home School with a “little giant” of just 9.2 Kgs.
We sent Gardening Celebrity Jane Griffiths along with Claire Slabber from Talborne Organics to select 2 other pumpkins for us. We asked that they choose pumpkins to fulfill the roles of Prettiest and Ugliest pumpkins for our competition.
So, as ladies are want to do, they came back with three pumpkins and demanded that we add a third category for the Most Unique pumpkin.

These are the three pumpkins that were chosen.

Ugliest Giant Pumpkin: Entered by Peter Payne (53.2 Kgs)
Prettiest Giant Pumpkin: Entered by Letsema Home School (68.8 Kgs)
Most Unique Giant Pumpkin: Entered by Letsema Home School (54.2 Kgs)

Jane Griffiths and the girls from Letsema Home School and their cool prize from Jane Griffiths
Jane Griffiths and the girls from Letsema Home School and their cool prize from Jane Griffiths

We also had a very well support “Guess The Weight” pumpkin. My son Daniel managed the table and solicited ‘guestimates’ from passersby. They had to pay R10.00 for the privilege of potentially winning a R500.00 prize sponsored again by a very generous Standard Bank.
The pumpkin was weighed immediately after a witnessed calibration test, and weighed in at exactly 71.8 Kgs  The closest ‘guestimate’ was 72.00 Kgs and the winner of that prize was a very happy Jane Griffiths. A total of R800.00 was raised for the Sukasambe Children’s Home on that competition alone.

A very happy Jane Griffiths and "THE" guestimate pumpkin.
A very happy Jane Griffiths and "THE" guestimate pumpkin.

As the organizers we would sincerely like to thank every competitor that entered, we know of a number of very worthy entries that split and were ineligible or broke open and thus would have been disqualified.
To the entries that were able to bring a pumpkin in on the day. THANK YOU! Every one of you are very much appreciated, it was you that contributed to the fun and excitement of the day. We trust that we will see you again next year for round two.
I have spoken to a number of the entrants and they are already making plans for the next competition, we have some people already building huge compost heaps now, to ensure that they have enough food to feed their own Giants. Everyone that I spoke to recons that they know how to improve their sizes, and will definitely be fielding a bigger pumpkin next year.
Finally, it must be remembered that this is a community competition. All of the proceeds from the competition are donated to two of our local charities the first being the Sukasambe Children’s Home that assists mentally and Physically disabled children that have been abandoned. The Second Charity is Dolly’s Old Age home in Penvale. Without your support, it would not have been possible to donate over R9000.00 to charity.

Thank you guys!!

If you would like to sign-up for the 2014 Standard Bank / Livingseeds Giant Pumpkin Competition @ the R59 Shed please click here. Note that registration is from September 2013.

Note: The three winning pumpkins will be on display at the R59 Shed until the end of April. Please Pop-in and come see what our winners grew.

 

BioSwirskii

Using the O word.

This post is something that I have been pondering for a while. I’m a firm believer in the use of organic matter in the garden and on farm. Here at Livingseeds Farm we spend a lot of time and money adding organic matter to our soil, mainly as a mulch on top of beds, but we do spread compost onto our grazing lands when we have spare. We are primarily a seed production operation and the main function of our animals is production of clean meat for our family and compost for the gardens.

To give you an idea as to what ‘method’ we practise we are firm believers in nitrogen capture utilizing carbon, we actively green manure with nitrogen fixing legumes in all unused beds over winter, we use high density-high impact grazing of cattle and sheep, we run a small pastured poultry operation for select customers and compost the slaughter waste of cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens once again with judicious amounts of carbon. (Joel Salatin’s methodology rules on this farm)

We don’t vaccinate our animals, no de-wormers, no licks, no dips and definitely no chemicals or poisons. Our water is solar pumped and then drip irrigated via gravity through a few kilometres of drip lines. This reduces our water requirements by over 80% and we are also doing our bit to save electricity.

Are we registered as organic NO! Will we ever be? NO!

Why not?  you may ask.

It’s pretty simple and here is my thinking.

I think that it’s simply ludicrous that the organic farming community wants to hand over the foundation and essence of what we stand for, to an institution that is corrupt to the core.

It’s the same as asking crowd of known paedophiles to look after your children… for the long weekend.

In what right mind would anyone ask our government to protect the essence and values of organic agriculture?

Come on guys, get your heads on straight, once they have their hands on organic legislation they can and will have it changed, amended, altered and twisted to suit big business. Remember big business has a lot more clout and can properly wine and dine the political powers, than a few small organic operators. They have a lot more to gain from lowering the bar when it comes to organic certification.

The US organic community is currently fighting to keep GM infected crops from getting organic status, all because the USDA now has control of the word ‘organic’. The same can and will happen here.

Already certain farmers worldwide are now talking about ‘Beyond organic’ as they try to prove with a smart phrase, that they are better than organic because that special O-word is already tainted.

I propose that instead of having organic legislation passed. What needs to happen is that chemical legislation needs to be passed.

Very simple, if ANY synthetic chemicals are used in the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging or storage of any food product is should get a simple label that says CHEMICALLY TREATED.

No threshold and no exemptions, it’s simple and it would work.

But then again it’s a dream, seeing as our government is too scared to properly label Genetically Infected food. Why on earth would they properly label chemically treated food or even protect the fundamental tenants and values of organic agriculture.

BioSwirskii

Actually Making Money at Farmers Markets

This is a follow-up on a previous post on Farmers Markets. This post has come around mainly from watching other stall holders and how they deal with sales that walk past their stalls.

What must be remembered is that people come to markets to spend money. Here is something you might not realise, “They Actually Have Money to Spend!” It’s up to you to excite them, when people are excited they are more inclined to spend that money with you.

A very common complaint that my wife has at markets is that they are often full of cheap trash, she has often popped out to a market to purchase a gift and come back empty handed and disappointed at the quality of the goods on offer.

The decision to have a stall at a farmers market is pretty easy, and generally one can get away with a couple of hundred Rands in initial investment. It’s making the sales that seems to be the hardest part!

I’ve seen people with good quality perishable goods that should be selling quickly, have a disastrous day. At the end of a whole day sitting in gloom, they grumble that the food is going home to feed pigs…. meanwhile, they should have sold out.

I believe that there are two MAIN hurdles that people need to overcome when looking at farmers markets.

The first is what to sell. This is one of the continuous questions that I hear from people that want (or need) to make an additional income.

My advice is generally to visit your local markets and just watch. Don’t watch what the stalls are selling.  Watch where the people are spending time AND money. These are the stalls that are selling something that’s in demand.

NOW look at what they are selling, take note of a few things. The first thing you will see is that the stall is probably full of produce / product. There is excitement on both sides of the stall and the person selling is typically talking loud enough so that passers-by can pick up on the conversation.

It does not really matter what the products are, but it’s generally fresh, new, exciting, upbeat and LOCALLY PRODUCED. Either by themselves or another local person or farmer.

My list of fast selling lines are.

Market veggies (Speciality and/or seasonal)

Seedlings (Flowers, veggies or herbs)

Lettuce and/or Salad pre-packs (Quick wins in your own garden for high margins)

Farm produce (Eggs, Fresh chicken etc)

Feta Cheese (Quick and Easy to make and everyone loves feta)

Cut Flowers (Surprisingly, these are great sellers at farmers markets, walking with a bunch of pretty flowers is very sexy)

What needs to be remembered is that people are looking for something that has a story, so tell them one, and tell it over and over again. Just as long as it’s the truth.

People want value for money, and they want to enjoy their purchase. People also like telling their own story of how they ‘found you’. If you are selling a consumable item and it’s a great product, they will probably share your goods with guests, as well as your story and that’s how you develop a name.

Selling DVD’s at a farmers or craft market is not what people are looking for, if they want to buy illegal copies of new movies they will buy it at the Zimbabwean on the first street corner or PS2 Games from the Malawian at the second one. They also did not come to visit their local China mart stall, don’t try sell junk guys, people can see through you.

People come to the market to try something new, so your Herb Leaf Salad pack that really IS a Herb Leaf Salad pack is going to rock their palates this evening and they will be back for more next week. Those stunning unusual veggies or flowers will be taken home, because you used special seed or they are old unique varieties that are not available anywhere else.

Early morning at the Wyetti Market, notice our well stocked stand. Our fellow stall holders behind have already settled in for the day. They had fantastic baked goods, but never sold enough to make it worthwhile.

The second hurdle is: Actually doing what you paid money to do in the first place…. selling!

Successful stalls NEVER have a chair for the stall holder to sit on.

I have watched fellow stall holders at a number of markets over the last year, the main deterrent to a prospective buyer is a stall holder that is sitting down or chatting to another stallholder.

The act of you sitting down prevents prospective customers from casually approaching you, because you are busy….. busy sitting and doing nothing. I’ve seen people, reading, knitting, eating, or just sitting glumly behind their stalls. If you are going to sit down, rather do it at home where you don’t have to pay for the privilege.

Another thing is talking to other stall holders. Now don’t get me wrong, be friendly and and show and interest in them, as they will assist you with your stall when you are short staffed or need to run to the loo, or vice-versa.  But don’t strike up a full length conversation and ignore the feet walking past. Stop those feet and talk to them instead.

If you are a smoker. Don’t smoke at your stall, no matter what your belief is about your right to smoke. And please don’t walk away from your stall to smoke, and them come and smoke at my stall! I tend to lose my sense of humour, as your smoke chases my customers away. I might just make you buy something.

My wife, eldest daughter and I run 2 separate stands at our local market, we sell our seeds and seedlings as well as a separate stand that sells fresh filter coffee by the cup. We have a rule that at least one of us is outside the stand engaging customers, talking to passers buy and generally being affable.

My wife Nicola (in the green) talking to a customer outside the stand. Other potential customers are listening in.

Our method is simple, and it’s as follows. Touch, Pause, Engage and Pass.

Touch with a word or two to spark interest.

Pause to see if there indeed is interest.

Engage and develop that interest

Pass the customer to the team mate behind the stand, if they are busy then help that customer yourself.

What this does is creates foot traffic and excitement at your stand, that excitement draws more customers. When things quieten down, then start again. Touch, Pause, Engage, Pass.

Farmers and Craft Markets are only as good as the stall holders, and they are the people that make the “vibe” of a market, if you guys are all glum and grumbly, don’t expect customers to cheer you up or spend money with you.

Being upbeat, having a smile and engaging with people all contribute to better sales. It’s easy and cost nothing. You are going to spend the day there anyway, so rather do it with a smile and come home with full pockets.