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Barefoot Farmer

Barefoot Farmer - Jeff Poppen

The Barefoot Farmer (Jeff Poppen) uses his farm (Long Hungry Creek Farm) as an example in demonstrating good farming principles. The landscape and atmosphere of the 21st century is leaning away from a small farm economy, bucolic scenery, sustainable agriculture and homegrown meals. The health of ourselves and our environment can only be enhanced by a reliance on local small farms for our needs. To learn more about these principle join Jeff Poppen with his weekly column - Barefoot Farmer.

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Busy As Bee's PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppen   
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A slow wet spring delayed garden work for a few weeks, but June found us busy as bees. The weeds are growing like weeds, and the vegetables are right behind them. It’s been a great growing season as long as you ignore the calendar.

Monday deliveries of fresh produce have been lettuce, radish, onion, beet, swiss chard and celery, plus a few herbs like thyme, oregeno and garlic. Soon we’ll send potatoes, squash, beans and cucumbers. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will follow, along with sweet corn and melons. We are still planting sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Every week is different.

You can get in on the action. The shop in RBS, across from the Head Start, is open on Monday afternoons. Local folks gather there to get fresh vegetables and learn how to eat healthier.

In Nashville we deliver to three locations. One is in Berry Hill, one in East Nashville at Porter Road Butcher, and one at Headquarters Coffee in West Nashville. This all happens on Monday afternoons, too.

 Diligent hoeing takes up a lot of our time. The young plants need assurance that n o weeds will bother them. But more importantly, we hoe to conserve soil moisture. By keeping the soil surface loose, the moisture underneath does not leave. If the soil is tight, capillary action evaporates and dries out the soil, wicking away the previous water the same way a candle wick draws up wax.

Irrigation is not necessary here. We get plenty of rain. By building a live soil humus, winter and spring rains soak in and supply water to the crops during summer. Compost, cover crops and tillage are more efficient than an irrigation system.

I can’t find any potato beetles. The plants must have a high sugar content, because if they didn’t there would be little red Colorado beetle larvae devouring the leaves. Bugs do not have a pancreas, so they cannot digest sugar.

If you want bugs, use commercial fertilizer. The nitrate nitrogen will use up the sugar in the plants so that bugs can eat them. Then you use the poisons on the plants. These a re the recommendations from the fertilizer/pesticide industry which funds the land grand colleges and the USDA extension service.

Old time farmers don’t have extra money from subsidy and crop insurance, so they rely on composted manures. It’s the cheaper way to go.

The summer solstice has come and gone. Our annual celebration went well, preceded by weeks of planting and hoeing. As we enter summer, the soil is loose, the crops look good, and the hoes will continue to stir. We are late on making hay, but the sun is shining.

Summer Gardens PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppens   
Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The summer garden is still in the seed packages, so let us talk about lettuce. Of the many different kinds, we grow a lot of the Batavian type. These are the summer crisp lettuces which hold up well in hot weather.
A cold frame was prepared in early April. An equal part of soil, compost and sand were thoroughly mixed up and put into a box six inches deep. Handfuls of rock phosphate and kelp were racked in and shallow furrows formed six inches apart.
I pour seed into the palm of my left hand and grab a pinchful with my right thumb and forefinger. By rubbing them, a steady flow of seeds thinly falls into the row. They need to not be piled up thickly, but about an inch apart.
The side of my hand pushes the seed down, and my fingers rake dry soil on top. I don’t water it. There is plenty of moisture in the soil, and by firming the soil and seed together they will swell up and sprout, and they grow faster then vegetables.
Once the lettuce is up, fingers tickle the loose soil in the beds. The sand really helps keep the beds easy to work. In about a month the plants are five to six inches tall and ready to transplant.
A well-composted garden bed is prepared and the plants are dug up. One person drops and another person plants. The left hand pulls the soil open, and the right hand picks the lettuce plant up by the leaves. Once the root is in the hole both hands firm it in and down the row we go. Afterward we give them all a splash of water.
Nevada, Concept, Magenta, and Sierra are the Batavian lettuces lining the beds. We grow the Romaine varieties, Paris Island Cos and Winter Density. Buttercruch and Little Gem are Bibb varieties we also grow, and I like the Iceburg type called Prizehead.
Now all they need is a bit more tickling with that hoe about once a week and watch them grow. Lettuce quickly jumps up and covers the bed. They are set out about a foot apart in rows 18” wide, so as they mature their leaves touch and shade out the weeds.
Lettuce is cut when the heads have formed and then it is dipped in cool water. T his takes away the heat and keeps them from wilting. They are shipped quickly to a cooler cellar and then off to the customers.
The cool weather suits lettuce just fine. Soon it will warm up and we’ll plant everything else. But the ground has to dry up first. Then we’ll talk about something besides lettuce.

Plants PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppens   
Tuesday, May 7, 2013

    8. There are two kinds of warmth for plants, a leaf-and-flower warmth that is dead, and a root warmth which is living. The moment warmth is drawn into the earth by the limestone it is changed into a certain condition of vitality. Air, too, is alive in the soil and dead above. Soil is full of aerobic, live beings, much more so than air.

Earth and water, on the other hand, become more dead in the earth than outside it. By losing life they become receptive to distant forces, especially in mid-winter.

    9. The minerals in the earth become under the influence of the most distant forces between January 15 and February 15. These are the crystal-forming forces. Before and after this period, minerals ray out forces particularly important for plant growth. We make practical use of this knowledge when we buy manure-filled horns during winter.

   10. For tilling the soil, we must know the conditions which enable distant forces access to the earth. We can learn this from the seed-forming process.

It is when a seed matures, when its protein is the most complex, that it disintegrates into chaos and the entire universe is able to stamp itself upon the seed. That which we see as a plant is always the image of some constellation. Steiner is telling us that pollination is an incomplete process. Afterwards, something happens in the seed, this turning into chaos, that opens it up to receive forces from the universe, making it become the particular species its parents were.

    11. The only way to help bring the new plant back to earthly forces is to place it in a humus-rich soil. When plant life has not reached the chaos of seed-formation, we plow it in to improve the humus content of the soil. The flowering stage is the time to cut and incorporate cover crops.

    12. Steiner encourages us to heighten our observational powers. “We can trace the process quite exactly. We can see this directly.” Earthly forces work in the horizontal leaf and flower formation. The seed at the end of the vertical stem irradiates the leaf and flower with distant forces.

    13. Plant-leaves would not be green with just the earth forces in them. The sun forces living in the leaves makes them green. Colored flowers not only have the sun forces, but also the supplementary forces which the sun receives from the distant planets. In red flowers we see forces of Mars, in yellow or white flowers we see Jupiter, and in blue ones, Saturn. These forces, as we have seen, work most strongly underground in the roots, but does shine out in the color of the flowers.

    14. In a plant we have the cosmic nature in the root, with just a little present in the coloring above. But in a much divided root, like those of grass plants, the earthly nature is working downward from its normal place above the soil level. The sun lives in the green leaves between root and blossom. The cosmic, distant forces work upward from inside the Earth with the help of silica, and the earthly forces work downward with the help of calcium.

    15. These plants with much-divided roots are the fodder plants which really build good soil. The best soils in the world are the great plains and savannahs where grass grows and gets grazed periodically for centuries. We mimic this by rotational, intensive grazing or the growing of grass and grain cover crops. These are silica plants with sharp, pointy leaves. When the cosmic is help up in the stalk, not shooting into the flowers, silica is working as in the plant, horsetail. We will use this practical information later to make an antifungal preparation.

    16. On the other hand, if we want the cosmic forces to not shoot upwards but to remain below, we would put the plant in a sandy soil. Remember, clay helps transport silica forces upward. Potatoes do not need to shoot up into seed production, so they like a sandy soil to enhance stem foundation near the root. We must always be able to distinguish between cosmic and earthly forces.

    17. Steiner then proceeds to explain that humanity was able to create the different kinds of fruits from primitive varieties by this kind of knowledge and instinctive wisdom. We must re-discover it, and again new knowledge in order to enter again into the whole Nature-relationship of these things.

    18. The silica receives light into the earth and makes it effective there. Humus, which stands nearer to the earthly-living nature does not receive light, it gives rise to a light-less working.

    19. Regarding animals, this is the peculiar relation. If on any farm you have the right amount of animals, these will give the farm the right amount of manure. The farm is healthy in as much as it provides its own manure. The farm is healthy in as much as it provides its own manure from its own stock.

   20. From the nose towards the heart of the animal, the distant forces are at work. In the heart itself the sun is at work, and from the tail back towards the heart the inner planets have influence. Besides direct sunlight, we have light reflected by the moon. Its effects are only from behind the animal.

Steiner asks us to learn to read the form, and suggests studying skeletons at a museum. You have the true contrast of the sun and the moon in the form and figure of the animals head and the attachment of the thighs, and you will be able to discover a definite relationship between the manure and the needs of the earth where the animal is grazing.

Knowledge PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppens   
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Steiner begins the second lecture by giving an overview of the whole agriculture course. We will spend the first lectures gathering knowledge so as to recognize the conditions on which the prosperity of agriculture depends and observing hoe agriculture lives in the totality of the Universe. In the later lectures we will draw the practical conclusions, but for now we must gather, recognize and observe.

Notice the Goethenistic approach. We are not starting with a problem and hypothesis, as in Newtonian Science. Instead, we are looking for information, conditions, and how something (agriculture) lives. There are no boundaries to where we will look. Because of their diversity, I will number the various items of knowledge.

  1. The first condition is clear. “A farm is true to its essential nature if it is conceived as a kind of individuality entity in itself- a self-contained entity… whatever you need for agricultural production, you should try to posses it within the farm itself (including in the farm the due amount of cattle).”

Steiner insists from the start that a farm needs livestock, and then explains why. “It is not a matter of indifference whether we get our cow-dung from the neighbor or from our own farm.” What makes our farm’s cow-dung different? The humus content of a soil, with specific microbes, is formed in a large part by the animals on it. They eat the plants growing on the farm, digesting and transforming the microbiology in their stomachs. A cycle of rejunevation happens as it’s returned back to the soil and new plants grow there.

He justifies this need for a farm’s own livestock by considering the Earth and the influences from the Universe beyond. That means calcium forces in the manure and silica forces communicating intelligence from afar. This will be considered from various standpoints, and now we will begin with the soil.

  1. The soil is more than its mineral content and humus. Soil contains not only life but an effective astral principle. Astral refers to the stars, the influences from beyond the realm of earthly life. This inner life of the earthly soil, the fine and intimate astral effects, is different in summer and in winter, which has significance in practical life. We’ll learn how to use this difference when we bury cow horns.
  2. After this second item we have gathered, a third one is added. “The surface of the Earth is a kind of organ in that organism which reveals itself throughout the growth of Nature.” It is like a human diaphram. In the agricultural individuality, all the plants, animals and humus live in the belly of an organism whose head and nervous system are underground. “There is a constant and living mutual interplay of the above-the-Earth and below-the-Earth.”
  3. We are next begged to observe where these influences are localized. Activities above the Earth are immediately dependant on the inner plants supplementing and modifying the influences of the sun. The distant planets work upon all that is beneath the Earth’s surface, assisting those influences which the sun exercises from below the Earth.

In chapter one we were introduced to calcium and silica, and their relationship to the inner and distant planets, respectively. Now we have their locales. Again, we are still just gathering various items of knowledge. Notice that both sets of planets work with the sun. inner planets supplement and modify, while the outer planets simply assist.

  1. It is through what are commonly called sand, rocks, and stone that we have influences that depend on the farthest distances of the Universe. They are the most important for the unfolding of the growth-processes. This is where life comes into the soil, through the communication and intelligence of silica.
  2. You may wonder how what is poured down, so to speak, gets carried back up into the plant. Everything in the nature of clay is a means of transport. Adding clay to a sandy soil and adding sand to a clayey soil are old-time farming recommendations. The greater surface area of clay particles facilitates transportation.

What is drawn in from the Universe by the way of silicon and the root-nature, “head” beneath the soil, is able to be led upward through the plant by the clayey substances in the soil. Clay is the carrier of the upward stream of silica’s activity beneath the soil.

  1. Plant-growth in the air above the soil is a kind of digestion. The cycles of animals and crops on a farm create continual compost possibilities. A true mutual interaction arises when microbes and fine homeopathis substances are engendered by the water and air above the earth through the lives of plants and animals.

All that is above the soil in this kind of digestive process must be drawn downward into the soil. Limestone in the soil and in homeopathic doses in the air is there to carry into the soil the earthly process of digestion. Farmers spread lime on top of their fields, knowing it will work its way downward.

Subtle Influences PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppen   
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Substances like silica make the plant receptive to the expanses of the universe, they arouse the plant’s senses so that it takes up from the whole universe what is shaped by Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Conversely, what makes a plant capable of the reproduction is taken from the spheres of Moon, Venus and Mercury via the forces of the calcium-like substances.

Silica is everywhere in minute doses, and fungi have been found in outer space. Remember, plants are a direct reflection of the stars, and silica is the communication and intelligence system. When plants become food or fodder, substances like silica (which would include mercury, lead and arsenic) are involved.

Calcium and related substances (potassium, sodium and magnesium) are involved in growth and propagation. Mother’s milk is calcium-rich, and we remember that calcium is what brings nitrogen into the plant.

Water promotes the forces of calcium; it is the ideal substance for the distribution of lunar forces. Plant growth shoots up after a rain and a full moon. A lack of calcium or water limits the capacity for growth and reproduction.

Warmth promotes the forces of silica; on the other hand, plants need warm weather to ripen their nourishing fruits and seeds. A lack of silica means less nutrition.

Steiner goes as far as to claim that the warmth from a fire will not be as healthy from trees that were planted with no considerations to the rhythms of the outer planets. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn affect the life of perrenial plants. People go through life quite thoughtlessly today, glad to not have to think about such things, and conceive of the whole of nature in a materialistic way, functioning like a machine.

Materialism, exemplified in Newtonian physics, allows us to understand the world of motion, time and space. Steiner acknowledges the achievements we’ve accomplished with lifeless machines, and that instinctual peasant wisdom had to step aside for the rise of scientific discoveries. But now it’s time to join the two world views together. Recent biological discoveries reveal some of the insights that Steiner, and Goethe before him, were well aware of.

Life does not work in a materialistic and mechanical way. A living organism is not a simple reductionist system, but a very interdependent interaction of many different things, from stars to microbes. This is the primary lesson in the first lecture. We have come to a starting point with the revelation of how silica and calcium work to bring nitrogen into our crops in the proper way for maximum animal and human nutrition.

This materialistic thinking is directly responsible for the simple fact that Steiner cannot find potatoes as good as the ones he ate as a boy. He has tried them everywhere. “Especially in the last few decades, a lot of things have diminished in their nutritive value simply because people no longer understand the more subtle influences at work in the universe.”

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