Photo credit: Trees for the Future In Mbentinki, Senegal, women gather around to fill planting sacks for their new nursery. Desertification: Rooting out the Problem with Trees Article Post Written by Amanda Grossi, Trees Contributing Columnist More than 1.5 billion people in the world depend on degraded land, and about three quarters (74%) of […]
Just as humans need the right balance of nutrients for good health, so do plants. For example, when tomatoes grow in soil that’s deficient in calcium; they develop blossom-end rot. Sometimes, too much of a nutrient is detrimental: Excessive nitrogen causes lots of leaf growth (such as clematis or peppers) but few flowers or fruits.
What’s the secret to raising healthy Vegetables?Great Soil
How can you tell if your soil has what plants need? A soil test. When you send a soil sample to a lab, you get a detailed analysis of soil nutrients and you find out about deficiencies. That’s valuable information. Now you can also assess your soil for even more critical qualities.The methods are quite simple and the only supplies you need are a few items commonly found around the house.
SOIL STRUCTURE + TILTH
When the soil is neither too wet nor too dry, dig a hole 6 to 10 inches deep. Separate an intact section about the size of a soup can and break it apart with your fingers. Determine whether the soil is cloddy, powdery, or granular. Ideally, your soil should be made up of different sized crumbs that will hold their shape under slight pressure. Crumbs, or aggregates, as soil scientists call them, that break apart only with difficulty mean your soil is too hard.
Why It’s Important
Soil rich in organic matter tends to form relatively round aggregates, which leads to porosity. Open, porous soils allow the free movement of water and oxygen, he explains, so plants can develop strong, healthy roots.
Plunge a rod vertically into the soil at different locations. Mark the depth at which the wire bends. The sooner it bends, the more compacted the soil. A foot or more of easily penetrable soil is ideal.
Why It’s Important
Compacted soil inhibits root growth and water availability, and keeps earthworms and other vital soil fauna from circulating freely.
You may have already learned about your soil’s work-ability the last time you got the garden ready for planting. If tilling or digging the soil produces cloddy or plate-like clumps, the work-ability is low. Farmers measure work-ability by monitoring how much tractor fuel they use; you can simply judge the effort necessary to prepare beds for planting.
Why It’s Important
Soil that’s easy to work allows water to reach roots efficiently and is less prone to compaction. Fail this step, and your garden will likely show disappointing results for many of the other tests. “If the soil isn’t easily worked, other problems have already been going on for a while.
Measure the animal life in your soil by digging down at least 6 inches and peering intently into the hole for 4 minutes. Tick off the number and species of each organism observed, such as centipedes, ground beetles, and spiders. Because most soil organisms spurn daylight, gently probe the soil to unearth the more shy residents. If you count less than 10, your soil does not have enough active players in the food chain.
Why It’s Important
A thriving population of diverse fungi, bacteria, insects, and invertebrates is one of the most visible signs of soil quality. The more that creeps and crawls under your garden, the less opportunity there is for pests and disease. Each level of soil life does its part to break down plant residue and make more nutrients available for plant growth.
When the soil is not too dry or wet, examine the soil surface for earthworm casts and/or burrows. Then dig out 6 inches of soil and count the number of earthworms squirming on the shovel. Three worms are good; five are better. The absence of worms means the soil does not have enough of the organic matter they feed on. An exception: If you live in the Southwest, don’t waste your time looking, even if the soil displays other conditions of soil quality. Earthworm activity is less likely in the desert because worms don’t like hot soil.
Why It’s Important
Not only do earthworms aerate the soil, but their casts infuse the soil with enzymes, bacteria, organic matter, and plant nutrients. They also increase water infiltration and secrete compounds that bind soil particles together for better tilth.
If you’ve grown a cover crop, dig down 6 inches 1 month after turning it into the soil and then look for plant matter. The range of organic material is important to notice here. The presence of recognizable plant parts as well as plant fibers and darkly colored humus indicates an ideal rate of decomposition.
Why It’s Important
The single most important component of healthy soil is organic matter. But plants and other organic materials decompose only when soil organisms are there to do the work. Any sign of this process is a good sign, but the speed of decomposition is important, too. Fast decomposition is another indicator of soil quality. In poorly aerated soil, plants break down slowly, a condition that gives off a faintly sour scent.
Start this test during the active growing season and look for healthy plant color and size that’s relatively uniform. Overall health and development must be judged for what’s considered normal for your region. The caveat to this to the test is that if you planted late or during a drought, or suffered a pest infestation, results of this test may be unreliable.
Why It’s Important
Plant vigor indicates soil with good structure and tilth, a well-regulated water supply, and a diverse population of organisms. It’s the best sign of effective soil management you’ll have above ground.
Use a shovel or hand trowel to dig gently around a selected plant, preferably a weed you won’t miss. Once you’ve reached root depth, pull an annual plant up and check the extent of root development, searching for fine strands with a white healthy appearance. Brown, mushy roots indicate serious drainage problems—and a poor outlook for this year’s harvest. Stunted roots might also indicate disease or the presence of root-gnawing pests. When you look at the roots, you can really see what’s going on.
Why It’s Important
Roots have the most immediate connection with and reliance on soil quality. Without air, water, biological activity, and crumbly soil to grow in, roots can’t do their job.
Take an empty coffee can with the bottom removed and push it into the soil until just 3 inches remain above the surface. Fill the can with water, marking the water height, and then time how long it takes for the water to be absorbed into the soil. Repeat this several times until the rate of absorption slows and your times become consistent. Anything slower than 1/2 to 1 inch per hour is an indication of compacted soil.
Why It’s Important
Good infiltration gets water to plants where they need it at their roots prevents runoff and erosion, and lets air move more efficiently into soil pores.
Wait for a soaking rain; then record how long until plants start to show signs of thirst. Results will vary widely by region. The basic lesson is that if plants require more frequent watering than typical for your region, your soil is probably the culprit.
Why It’s Important
Porous soil can better resist evaporation and adequately supply plants between waterings. It could make all the difference in the world if water were to go another inch deeper.
Still not convinced take this ride with me. Do you know that you can carry out a ph test on your soil sample without a phmeter and no it does not give a reading, it just helps you to make a decision about your soil.
Go to the grocery’s store and get a baking soda and a bottle of vinegar, then get soil sample from your farm from different random location and mixed them all up together before diving into smaller quantity while you get ready to carry out the test.
Collect 1 cup of soil from different parts of your garden and put 2 spoonfuls into separate containers. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil,
with a pH between 7 and 8.If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test.
Then add distilled water to the other container until 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, most likely with a pH between 5 and 6.
If your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of 7 and you are very lucky and good to go
kindly recall my last post titled sustainable agriculture ; small steps to bigger tomorrow. I was able to explained what sustainable agriculture is, what to do to achieve it and how it benefits us all.
In this post I will be sharing my personal experience using sustainable farming techniques to achieve sustainable agriculture. the month of June was a time of planting for rice farmers in Birgi Village, Minna, Niger state in Nigeria while harvesting started in the month of October. After drying the rice plant was threshed and the grains were removed leaving only the rice straw. the rice farm of about 20 hectares with so much waste a type of agricultural waste that poses a huge environmental and health burden on rice farmers who burn it as a means of disposal if not probably managed. as an agriculturist i was saddled with the responsibility to profer an economical solution that would channel this waste turned resources for better usage.
In the quest for knowledge, I started making enquires on what rice straw can be used for and its benefit. The straw mass corresponding to 1 ton of sun dried paddy rice is 1.5 tons which contains about 9 kilos of nitrogen, 2 kilos each of phosphorus and sulfur, 25 kilos of potassium, 70 kilos of silicon, 6 kilos of calcium and 2 kilos of magnesium based on a study by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) of 1984.
Rice straw is thus a good source of macro-nutrients. Burning rice straw, a usual practice in most farms destroys most of the nitrogen, sulfur, some of the potassium and makes silicon less available.To return the nutrients of rice straw to the soil, cut rice stalks higher during harvest time. More stubble are then incorporated into the soil during land preparation. Threshed straw can be fed to animals or can be used for feeding livestock during fodder shortage. Some of the rice straw nutrients are subsequently returned to the soil as animal excreta.
I started moving rice staw for the farmland piling them up a ventilated room as temporary storage for size reduction by a forage chopper. Some of the chopped straws were treated with biofertilizer ( molasses) and wrapped in plastic so that it is not exposed to air or water( under anearobic condition), and then stored away from the sun for 21 days before been used as livestock feed. The leftover after chopping were used in making compost. I was able to kill not two birds with one stone but three. I got rid of the so called waste for the farmers, produced fodder for my ruminant animals and also compost for my crops,
all these for no dime.
There is one thing I have come to realise in Agriculture EVERY WASTE COUNTS. Don’t lose sight of your resoures.
Sustainable farming or in a broader term, Sustainable agriculture is using farming practices considering the ecological cycles. It is also sensitive towards the microorganisms and their equations with the environment at large.
In simpler terms, sustainable farming is farming ecologically by promoting methods and practices that are economically viable, environmentally sound and protect public health.
It does not only concentrate on the economic aspect of farming, but also on the use of non-renewable factors in the process thoughtfully and effectively. This contributes to the growth of nutritious and healthy food as well as bring up the standard of living of the farmer.
Our environment, and subsequently our ecology have become an area of concern for us over the last few decades. This has increasingly led us to contemplate, innovate and employ alternate methods or smaller initiatives to save our ecology. One such initiative is sustainable farming. It simply means production of food, plants and animal products using farming techniques that prove to be beneficial for public health and promote economic profitability. It draws and learns from organic farming
Sustainable farming or Sustainable agriculture helps the farmers innovate and employ recycling methods, this apart from the conventional perks of farming. A very good example of recycling in sustainable farming would be the crop waste or animal manure. The same can be transformed into fertilizers that can help enrich the soil. Another method that can be employed is crop rotation. This helps the soil maintain its nutrients and keeps the soil rich and potent. Collection of rainwater via channeling and then its utilization for irrigation is also a good example of sustainable farming practices.
Sustainable Farming Methods or Practices
Let us see various methods or practices of Sustainable farming in detail:
Make use of Renewable Energy Sources:The first and the most important practice is the use of alternate sources of energy. Use of solar, hydro-power or wind-farms is ecology friendly. Farmers can use solar panels to store solar energy and use it for electrical fencing and running of pumps and heaters. Running river water can be source of hydroelectric power and can be used to run various machines on farms. Similarly, farmers can use geothermal heat pumps to dig beneath the earth and can take advantage of earth’s heat.
Integrated pest management:Integrated pest management a combination pest control techniques for identifying and observing pests in the initial stages. One needs to also realize that not all pests are harmful and therefore it makes more sense to let them co-exist with the crop than spend money eliminating them. Targeted spraying works best when one need to remove specific pests only. This not only help you to spray pest on the selected areas but will also protect wildlife from getting affected.
Crop Rotation:Crop rotation is a tried and tested method used since ancient farming practices proven to keep the soil healthy and nutritious. Crop rotation has a logical explanation to it – the crops are picked in a pattern so that the crops planted this season replenishes the nutrients and salts from the soil that were absorbed by the previous crop cycle. For example, row crops are planted after grains in order to balance the used nutrients.
Avoid Soil Erosion:Healthy soil is key to a good crop. Age old techniques like tilling the land, plowing etc still work wonders. Manure, fertilizers, cover crops etc also help improve soil quality. Crop rotations prevent the occurrence of diseases in crops, as per studies conducted. Diseases such as crown rot and tan spot can be controlled. Also pests like septoria, phoma, etc can be eliminated by crop rotation techniques. Since diseases are crop specific, crop rotation can work wonders.
Crop Diversity:Farmers can grow varieties of the same crop yielding small but substantial differences among the plants. This eases financial burdening. This process is called crop diversity and its practical use is on a down slide.
Natural Pest Eliminators:Bats, birds, insects etc work as natural pest eliminators. Farmers build shelter to keep these eliminators close. Ladybugs, beetles, green lacewing larvae and fly parasites all feed on pests, including aphids, mites and pest flies. These pest eliminators are available in bulk from pest control stores or farming supply shops. Farmers can buy and release them on or around the crops and let them make the farm as their home.
Managed Grazing:A periodic shift of the grazing lands for cattle should be maintained. Moving livestock offers them a variety of grazing pastures. This means they will receive various nutrients which is good for them. The excreta of these animals serves as a natural fertilizer for the land. Change of location also prevents soil erosion as the same patch of land is not trampled upon constantly. Also by grazing in time and mowing the weeds can be gotten rid off before they produce more seeds and multiply.
Save Transportation Costs:Targeting the sales of the production in the local market saves transportation and packaging hassles. It also eliminates the need of storage space. Therefore when stuff is grown and sold in local markets, it makes a community self sufficient, economically sound, saves energy and doesn’t harm the environment in any way.
Better Water Management:The first step in water management is selection of the right crops. One must choose the local crops as they are more adaptable to the weather conditions of the region. Crops that do not command too much water must be chosen for dry areas. Irrigation systems need to be well planned otherwise they lead to other issues like river depletion, dry land and soil degradation. One can also build rainwater harvesting systems to store rainwater and use them in drought prevailing conditions. apart from that municipal waste water can be used for irrigation after recycling.
Removal of Weeds Manually:Farmers having small farms can use their hands to remove weeds from crops where machines can’t reach or where crops are too fragile. This is quite a labor intensive task and is not suitable for large farms. Apart from this, a farmer also has the option to burn the old crops so that weeds do not produce seeds and destroy rest of the crops. However, that will causepollution in airand cal also affect the soil quality.
Sustainable energy is not only economical but it also helps in the conservation of our natural resources. Sustainable farming also helps reduce the need for chemicals fertilizers and pesticides. This makes the process more organic and clean.
Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture
Contributes to Environmental Conservation:The environment plays a huge role in fulfilling our basic needs to sustain life. In turn, it is our duty to look after the environment so that future generations are not deprived of their needs. Sustainable agriculture helps to replenish the land as well as other natural resources such as water and air. This replenishment ensures that these natural resources will be able for future generations to sustain life.
Public Health Safety:Sustainable agriculture avoids hazardous pesticides and fertilizers. As a result, farmers are able to produce fruits, vegetables and other crops that are safer for consumers, workers, and surrounding communities. Through careful and proper management of livestock waste, sustainable farmers are able to protect humans from exposure to pathogens, toxins, and otherhazardous pollutants.
Prevents Pollution:Sustainable agriculture means that any waste a farm produces remains inside the farms ecosystem. In this way the waste cannot cause pollution.
Reduction in Cost:The use of sustainable agriculture reduces the need for fossil fuels, resulting in significant cost savings in terms of purchasing as well as transporting them. This in turn lessens the overall costs involved in farming.
Biodiversity:Sustainable farms produces a wide variety of plants and animals resulting inbiodiversity. During crop rotation, plants are seasonally rotated and this results in soil enrichment, prevention of diseases, and pest outbreaks.
Beneficial to Animals:Sustainable agriculture results in animals being better cared for, as well as treated humanely and with respect. The natural behaviors of all living animals, including grazing or pecking, are catered for. As a result they develop in a natural way. Sustainable farmers and ranchers implement livestock husbandry practices that protect animals’ health.
Economically Beneficial For Farmers:In exchange for engaging with sustainable farming methods, farmers receive a fair wage for their produce. This greatly reduces their reliance on government subsidies and strengthens rural communities. Organic farms typically require 2 ½ times less labor than factory farms yet yield 10 times the profit.
Social Equality:Practicing sustainable agriculture techniques also benefits workers as they are offered a more competitive salary as well as benefits. They also work in humane and fair working conditions, which include a safe work environment, food, and adequate living conditions.
Due to population increase, it is estimated that by 2050 we will need approximately 70% more food than is currently being produced in order to provide the estimated 9.6 billion world population with their recommended daily calorie intake. This is by no means a small challenge, but unlike many other sustainability challenges, everyone can play a part. We all need to eat, but by simply reducing food loss and waste, as well as eating diets that are lower impact, and investing in sustainable produce, we can make a difference. From countries, to companies, right down to consumers, we all have a role to play. The challenge is simply making people care in a world where we are surrounded by such abundance.
About 80% of farmers in Uganda are women, producing 60% of food but they only own 1% of land they use for farming; a meager percentage. The rest of the land is under the control of men, as land ownership in Uganda is a preserve of men. So, what is planted on such land is dictated by them. They decide which crops can be planted. For instance, a man can decide to use the land to grow cash crops like tobacco or sugar cane that fetch a higher price at the market, and yet these crops are not food crops. This implies that the size of land that women use for agriculture is very limited, and whatever is produced from such land is limited to household consumption. Furthermore, this land is overused and has low fertility.
Is there any technology to help women boost yields?
Ox ploughs are starting to come in, but most women still use a hand hoe. This means farming is very labour intensive. A lot of the work is done by women, who also have many other care giving tasks to complete. So we really need technology to reduce the time and energy a woman spends on the farm so that she can do other things and grow more food to feed her family. We are a long way off from having tractors – there are a few privately owned tractors but a rural woman farmer will not have the money to hire them.
Do any extension services reach your community?
Extension services do exist but you have to pay for them. If I need a vet to look at my cows, then I have to pay for his transport, expertise and the drugs he will recommend, and then feed the person when they visit my house, it is quite discouraging for a smallholder farmer.
Are women able to sell surplus crops?
People can sell what they want but peak season is a problem. Everyone has the same product so the price gets lower. We need effective storage systems so we can get a better price for our crops later in the year. This also calls for getting organized in groups.
Do women have access to finance?
This is a big challenge. The Government of Uganda has encouraged people to go into micro-finance, but loans come with demands. A rural women farmer who only owns a tiny amount of land may not have the collateral to put down as security. What our farmers’ organization has done to address this is to encourage women to form groups, called Savings and Co-operative Societies in villages. Every week women are encouraged to put something in a saving box, this accumulates and you are then able to borrow from that box to cater for your farm and family needs.
What recommendations would you make to policymakers?
More money could be spent on agriculture. In Uganda, agriculture is the backbone of the economy and more money would do a lot of good in the sector. Also, smallholder farmers, especially women rural farmers, should be part of the policy making process, so they can articulate the issues that concern them. Sometimes policies are made for us and we don’t get the benefits.
The government is already doing a lot to ensure sustained agricultural production, but implementation of the policies is often a problem. There are many good policies on land rights, ownership and modernization of agriculture. I call upon our farmer organizations to monitor the implementation of such policies so that the smallholder farmer can benefit and government can see the value of their investments.
What is your final message as a female farmer on International Women’s Day?
Rural women farmers produce most of the food to feed the family. These women should be empowered to improve their productivity, by giving them access to land, better tools to till the land, seeds and agrochemicals, access to financial services to improve their farm practices, information on weather, but also affordable agricultural extension services. Then, women can produce more food for the growing population.
I was on a drive out with my boss when he asked me the nutritional value of a water melon seed .
I was about telling him the nutritional value of a water melon fruit then I paused and I thought oh he just asked for the nutritional value of a water melon seed.
It got me thinking because I never thought the seeds could have any use aside for planting.I started making some enquiring and researches and I found that of a truth water melon seed has got a high nutritional value. When you think of the health benefits of watermelon, the seeds probably don’t come to mind. You probably think about the sweet, juicy pulp, with the seeds an afterthought and maybe good only for spitting contests. The fact is, watermelon seeds make a great snack when they have been dried and roasted Watermelon seeds are very high in protein, with 1 cup of dried seeds containing 30.6g, which is 61 percent of the daily recommended value. The protein in watermelon seeds consists of several amino acids, one of which is arginine. While the body produces some arginine, MedlinePlus states that some health conditions may benefit from additional arginine. Some of the health benefits of arginine include regulating blood pressure and treating coronary heart disease. Several other amino acids make up the protein in watermelon seeds, including tryptophan, glutamic acid, and lysine. Watermelon seeds are also loaded with several of the B vitamins. The American Cancer Society reports that B vitamins are necessary for converting food into energy and other important bodily functions. The most prevalent B vitamin in watermelon seeds is niacin, with 1 cup of dried watermelon seeds containing 3.8mg, which is 19 percent of the daily value. Niacin is important for maintaining the nervous system, digestive system and skin health. Minerals abound in watermelon seeds. Magnesium is the most abundant mineral, weighing in with 556mg, or 139 percent of the recommended daily value, in 1 cup of dried seeds. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium helps regulate blood pressure and the metabolism of carbohydrates, which has a beneficial effect on blood sugar as well.
The most surprising thing about watermelon seeds is the amount of fat they contain. In 1 cup of dried seeds, there are 51g of fat, with 11 of those being saturated fat. The other fats are monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-6 fatty acids. The American Heart Association reports that mono and polyunsaturated fats reduce blood cholesterol, and omega-6 fatty acids can help reduce high blood pressure. The down side of consuming a cup of watermelon seeds is the calorie count — you’ll take in just over 600 calories if you eat the whole cup.
Try making seasoned roasted seeds at home — a sprinkle of cinnamon or a mix of lime juice and chili powder are two flavorful options. Add some crunch to your salad with a handful of seeds, or use roasted watermelon seeds along with dried fruit in home-made trail mix