plantharvest

Can organic crops compete with industrial agriculture?

A systematic overview of more than 100 studies comparing organic and conventional farming finds that the crop yields of organic agriculture are higher than previously thought. The study, conducted by UC Berkeley researchers, also found that certain practices could further shrink the productivity gap between organic crops and conventional farming.

 

The study, to be published online Wednesday, Dec. 10, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, tackles the lingering perception that organic farming, while offering an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemically intensive agriculture, cannot produce enough food to satisfy the world’s appetite.

“In terms of comparing productivity among the two techniques, this paper sets the record straight on the comparison between organic and conventional agriculture,” said the study’s senior author, Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining.”

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies — a dataset three times greater than previously published work — comparing organic and conventional agriculture. They found that organic yields are about 19.2 percent lower than conventional ones, a smaller difference than in previous estimates.

The researchers pointed out that the available studies comparing farming methods were often biased in favor of conventional agriculture, so this estimate of the yield gap is likely overestimated. They also found that taking into account methods that optimize the productivity of organic agriculture could minimize the yield gap. They specifically highlighted two agricultural practices, multi-cropping (growing several crops together on the same field) and crop rotation, that would substantially reduce the organic-to-conventional yield gap to 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

The yields also depended upon the type of crop grown, the researchers found. There were no significant differences in organic and conventional yields for leguminous crops, such as beans, peas and lentils, for instance.

Continue reading at UC Berkeley.

Farm harvest image via Shutterstock.

Building A Worm Farm From An Old Sink Or Tub.

Worm castings are one of the BEST garden amendments you can use. Worms recycle old compost and make new fresh worm castings (worm poop) for you to use. Worm castings are great, but can get expensive, so making a sustainable system to recycle food and support your food growing habit is a great way to solve multiple problems with one solution. So here is how to build a worm farm out of an old utility sink, but you can use really any container you can find, worms are pretty easy.

You need some basic things for a worm bin. Worms need moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Bedding, made of newspaper strips or leaves, will hold moisture and contain air spaces essential to worms.

1. Go to a website like Freecycle.org, or Craigslist, and find an old laundry sink, bathtub, tote, whatever size and shape you need and can find.

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2. Remove all the hardware and give it a good cleaning. Peroxide and vinegar should be your first choices as they are both more natural and worm safe, only use something harsher if you must.

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3. I have our bin in our basement, so it cannot sit on the overly cold basement, especially in the winter, plus we need to occasionally drain the liquid that the food and worms make so we left the legs on the utility sink, if you have a tote or another bin you may want to attach legs or sit it up on something. Make sure that the legs can hold the amount of weight you are putting on them. On a utility sink we used screws to make sure the legs were attached well and stayed on.

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4. Next you want to work on drainage, as a utility sink has a drain, we just took some precautions to keep the drain clear and then put a bucket under it. The “juice” you get some people like to water down and put on plants, others say it full of microbes that are dangerous, either way I just put it in our outside “hot” compost to make sure it stays wet enough. and to let any pathogens die off.

Bottom of the drain we used a piece of screen and a zip tie.

Bottom of the drain we used a piece of screen and a zip tie.

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We then glued a 2" net pot to the inside of the drain to keep it clear of debris.

We then glued a 2″ net pot to the inside of the drain to keep it clear of debris.

5. Now we cover the bottom in gravel or any type of gravel-ish stuff. I am using hydroton rock which is expanded clay pellets. cover the whole bottom with a thin layer, this is to keep the worms from drowning in the drainage.

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6. Now we cover the gravel with a sheet of landscaping fabric. Be sure that you use a fabric that is durable, but not plastic, air still needs to flow in every possible hole.

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7. Get together a base of newspaper, kraft paper, shredded cardboard, coconut coir, or even junk mail. Shred all of this down to fairly small pieces and then soak it in water for a few hours to a day or so until its all nice and wet.

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Then make a layer a couple inches thick in the bottom of your bin.

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Now its time to go ahead and get some worms…I recommend Uncles Jim’s Worm Farm, good worms with great customer service.

Then its just a matter of saving your old food scraps, grass clippings, leafs, etc to feed those worms. Before long you will have some worm casting to amend your garden with. So gentle you grow a whole plant in it without burn and yet so useful for every plant inside and outside.

6 Green Living Principles Every Household Should Learn (The Basics)

By: Guest Contributor, Jonathan James More

Sometimes, you are presented with too many ideas on how to maintain sustainability in your living space and are unsure which ones are the most effective. The challenge is to put those concepts together and come up with the best game plan for a greener living.

Here are 6 green living principles your household should learn and live by.

1. Your Electricity Bill Tells a Lot

You can start at home. Try to consume less energy and you’ll realize that it will not only benefit the environment, but it would also yield higher savings for your family. Use natural sunlight rather than electricity during the day. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D and can boost your mood.

2. Meals Should Be Well-planned

Obesity rate among children ages 2-5 decreased 43% in the past 10 years, based on a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February 2014. This means that healthier habits are being practiced by more Americans. Do your part by preparing healthy and delicious organic food that your kids would like. As much as possible, have a good estimate of the food you will prepare for your family to avoid throwing away leftovers.

3. Make Play Time More Fun

Aside from preparing healthier meals on the table, you should also be concerned about your kids’ physical and mental development. Being active in the playground allows children to run around freely with other kids. Having fun playground time is one great trick that can prevent your children from watching too much TV, or playing too often using electronic gadgets, or spending too much time in front of the computer. Allow them to exercise at the playground with other kids in your community to make play time more enjoyable for them. Look for commercial playground equipment that would not only address their playground fitness, but also develop their cognitive and social skills.

4. Reduce Waste

Do your share by purchasing items in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging. Buying reusable items rather than disposable single-use products can also help in avoiding waste. And when doing the groceries, bring tote bags to avoid the use of plastic bags.

5. Transform Waste into Treasure

Look for second-hand furniture or previously-owned home pieces that are useful and in great condition. If there are unused toys or old clothes that do not fit anymore, hand them down to other people in need. Donating them to the less fortunate is better than just throwing them away. Glass and plastic bottles are good for decorating the house. Use your creativity and give the house a makeover.

6. Grow Greens

If you have a spacious backyard, consider growing various vegetables in it. This can be a source of food available for your household, so you don’t need to buy them when you do your grocery shopping. If you do not have a yard where you can plant a fruit tree, you can still create a small herb garden. Grow them in a pot and place it on the front porch or windowsill. It’ll be a fun learning experience for the kids to watch the plants grow as well.

Jonathan James More is a medical writer. Connect with him via @JJMore022.