Ag 101 Week 47

Trace Minerals

 

Would you believe after this post there are only five weeks left in the Ag 101 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series!

Since I’ve started writing, a lot has happened not only professionally but personally as well. Last year I came on the speaking scene pretty strong presenting at four fairly significant conferences. This year I have had seven proposals rejected for silly reasons like they didn’t like my title or they felt I was redundant. Funny thing is, I said the title was not set in stone and I had never spoken at that particular conference before.  I’ve been called everything from a charlatan to a rock star. It has been brought to my attention that I should ask my family to purchase Grammarly for me as a Christmas gift. Even through all of that, I gained readers all over the world, doubled my email list, recorded a couple podcasts, presented for gardening clubs, and kept writing. Last but not least, I can now say I have clients in six states, and the consulting side of my business is steadily growing.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for my health and hope to keep up with the small but necessary steps to get past some challenges I’ve had. I have completely given up coffee, alcohol, refined sugars, and processed foods along with some other changes without harming anyone in the process.

Moreover, that leads me to this week’s topic.

Trace Minerals- Small but necessary elements that are critical for plant health.

Roles trace minerals play in plant health-

The amount of trace minerals in soil is related to the parent material and the amending and fertilizing history

Trace minerals are often referred to as micronutrients because they are required in relatively small amounts by plants and the people and animals consuming them

It has been up to debate has how nutrients such as sulfur are viewed. For the sake of this post, I’m going to cover it.

Trace minerals have been linked to the following functions

Sulfur (S) – Sulfur is needed to manufacture chlorophyll and the synthesis of nitrogen. It also encourages overall plant growth and vigor.

Boron (B) – Boron aids in cellular growth and helps to regulate the uptake of nutrients. It is essential for water absorption and the translocation of sugars. Boron and zinc have been linked to aiding in the vegetative and reproductive stages of berry development.

Copper (Cu) – Copper works to help plants metabolize nitrogen and is essential for iron utilization. It has been linked to bacterial and fungal suppression as well.

Iron (Fe) – Iron assists in the creation of chlorophyll and protein synthesis

Manganese (Mn) - Manganese is known as an activator for several enzymes responsible for plant metabolism as well as nitrogen transformation. 

Molybdenum (Mo) – Molybdenum plays several critical roles in a plants ability to metabolize nitrogen.

Zinc (Zn) – Zinc is required in seed production. It has also been linked to aiding the vegetative and reproductive phases in berry development.

Potential sources of organic inputs for trace minerals

Kelp-

Kelp can be used as a liquid concentrate, powder, or meal. It is a powerhouse of trace minerals and plant growth stimulating hormones. If I were reduced to recommending one product kelp would be it. That being said you still need to use it judiciously as not to decrease its efficacy

Greensand-

An excellent source of potassium and trace minerals along with built-in soil conditioning properties.

Azomite-

Azomite is a hydrated sodium calcium aluminosilicate broad-spectrum soil remineralizing product

Aragonite-

Raw aragonite brings with is biology from the sea, acting as a built-in inoculant as well as containing several trace minerals

Redmond Salt-

Redmond salt is an unrefined product containing more than 60 naturally occurring minerals

Chelated liquid forms-

This group of products can be mineral specific. The most common that I have worked with are Baicor Liquids. Care should be taken that your plants show signs of apparent deficiencies through tissue testing before applying to determine necessity and rates

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Ag 101 Week 41

It’s Not Just Fairy Dust & Go-Go Juice – It’s Chemistry

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Five years ago, when I told my Dad, I was going to work for an organic fertilizer company there was a long pause of silence.  After some more discussion he concluded that it must not be that big of a company so why not get back into the workforce with a small local business. Little did we know what I had gotten in to.

It was culture shock in more ways than one.

If you recall, I’m the girl that still thinks Kenny & Dolly are platonic and…

I didn’t come from the world of ‘organic/all-natural’ fertilizers. I came from a long line of tried and true conventional farming chemistries and practices that my family still uses today. Chemistries that are not even an option for or for that matter are even somewhat shunned by over 50% of the growers I currently work with. I almost titled this week’s post, “I Go Both Ways.” Because I work with all types of farmers/growers; large, small, conventional, certified organic, everything in between, and the list keeps growing.

Here’s why-

Agronomy is a universal language spoken between the soil and the crop. Fertilizers and amendments are chemistries, whether they are naturally or synthetically derived, that are used to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the soil and plants communication. Whether it is a by-product of industry, created in a lab, dug up from a mine somewhere from around the world, hauled out of the ocean, or an extract from a plant it is chemistry. All need to be used responsibly to ensure the future of farming, our food supply, and the environment.

As I started learning and getting more and more familiar with the world of organics I brought my dad to meetings so he too could learn and hear about the fascinating ways which they use all the amazing resources our world has to offer.

After one meeting, while we were having coffee, he said, “I guess I was wrong Monica. The way you explained things made me realize it’s not just fairy dust and go-go juice. You have a mighty big task ahead of you to get both sides to realize that and the farmers that use them to do so as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Don’t be fooled; I still get the funny comments like, “Do you make them spin in three circles before sprinkling the fairy dust, or do they sprinkle then spin?” Or, “Why does go-go juice attract so many cats?” Better yet, “What’s Monica bringing to the family reunion? Fish and kelp, haha!” However, my dad has come a long way from the once staunch naysayer to one of my biggest supporters, and for that, I am very grateful.

Ask my neighbor; I also make several recommendations with conventional chemistries I don’t even mention in some circles. While we are working in our gardens, she graciously listens as I tell her about the fine line I walk between both worlds.

Considering I have ‘a mighty big task ahead of me’ and we are at a point in the growing season that farmers should be soil testing to make amending and fertilizing decisions, over the next several posts we’re going to talk about what makes up a bag of fairy dust otherwise known as organic fertilizer.

If you recall I’ve talked about how fertilizer blends are not always one size fits all. I do find myself recommending more amending and management options before fertilizers to most farmers. However, the more you understand what each component can do, the more informed decision you can make.

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/3/3/fertilizers-and-pajamas

Just as I stated in Week 11 comparing fertilizer blends to pajamas, there are fillers added to them for specific reasons ranging from making up the volume to helping the product flow through manufacturing and spreading equipment. Those ‘fillers’ come with consequences both good and bad depending on whether you are aware of them and can plan in others areas of your fertility management. However, using a blend can extend a fertility plan and reduce the number of applications if careful consideration is made when choosing which one you use

Look at a bag of fertilizer as an engine, and each component in that blend has a piston, understanding the specific function of each piston is key to buying the right fertilizer and more importantly using it the best way. That knowledge along with a soil test and knowing the type of soil you’re working with is what gives you the necessary pieces of the puzzle in putting together a sustainable fertility plan.

Not quite the look I was going for, but thank you Google Images for the help

Not quite the look I was going for, but thank you Google Images for the help

The link below is a free e-book titled Understanding Amendments & Fertilizers I put together over a year ago. I’m in the process of updating it and offering this one to you as an intro to organic and all-natural amendments & fertilizers for signing up to receive news and updates.

Over the next several weeks we’ll cover nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace mineral components that make-up what goes into a bag of fertilizer, and you’ll see it’s not just fairy dust and go-go juice.

Ag 101 Week 36

An Offer too Good too Pass Up

Now is the time to take soil samples.

I know you’re still harvesting, going to market, and trying to stay ahead of the weather.

Think about this...

“If you don’t have next spring figured out this fall, your summer won't be as productive.”

To be ready for spring, you have to plan now, and one of the most critical parts to planning is soil testing.

Why is soil testing the most critical?

You can’t amend your fields or fertilize your crops without getting a soil test showing you the current chemistry of the soil.

Fall is the great time to apply amendments and to pre-purchase fertilizers. 

If you recall we talked about the topic of amending vs. fertilizing in week 5

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/1/21/ag-101-week-5

I also speak at length regarding the information needed from a soil test in week 24

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/6/11/ag-101-week-24

Here’s an offer to good to pass up from the folks at Fertrell

Head over to their Facebook page and download the submission form. Terms, conditions, and instructions have to be followed to have discounts applied. 

https://www.facebook.com/231821895616/posts/10156332311760617/

All though I have no affiliation with Fertrell, this offer is a great way to get a reputable soil test done 50% off.

Find out more at

https://www.fertrell.com/

Direct any questions about the offer to:

info@fertrell.com

or call 800-347-1566

You can also show them some love on Instagram at 

https://www.instagram.com/thefertrellcompany/

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* The Accidental Agronomist is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with The Fertrell Co., or any of its subsidiaries or its affiliates. Their official website can be found at www.fertrell.com. 

 

Ag 101 Week 33

Soil Health Indicators-

        Quantitative Vs. Qualitative

 

I’ve spoken before about how I feel there are differences between soil health and soil fertility. If you refer back to week 2, I wrote a short post about it.

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/1/5/ag-101-week-2

This week I want to expand on the two topics and go further into depth about each. Knowing the differences, understanding the concepts, and implementing management strategies specific to your farm is what will set you apart and elevate the level of your farm's capabilities.

Let’s start with soil health. If you recall I’ve likened this to the overall concept that every farmer knows they need to work towards. We have a basic understanding that to grow a high yielding productive crop sustainably as possible the soil we are producing it in needs to be healthy. The benchmarks set are qualitative indicators that are achieved when specific farming practices are used leading to healthy soil. Those indicators include-

Organic Matter (OM)

Physical

Chemical

Biological

The NRCS has developed several great resources outlining and explaining each in great detail

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/assessment

A walk around your fields on a regular basis is also a great way to assess the indicators as well. I highly recommend to farmers on any scale to invest the time to walk fields with a notebook and a shovel. Yes, I realize technology has come along way from the days when I was scouting on foot and had nothing else but what I could fit in my backpack, however getting out and looking for yourself as often as possible beats any technology we have. On my uncle's farm, he has tracking devices for each cow. It’s a great system and aids him immensely. However, he still invests the time to monitor each animal in case the monitors aren’t functioning correctly for whatever reason. Technology should be used as another layer of management but does not replace the human element of seeing it for yourself.

Here are some field observations for each indicator-

Organic matter-

Color is one of the best field observations for OM. Soils higher in OM will have a darker appearance. On occasion, they will have an earthy smell to them as well.

Physical-

Structure, soil depth, infiltration, and water holding capacity are visible indicators. The soils ability to retain nutrients, water, and be a conducive environment for microbes is dependent on its soil structure. Balanced amounts of different pore spaces and a soil that is workable but not so lacking in stability it just crumbles like sand indicate a healthy soil structure. Often you hear some say your soil should resemble large curd cottage cheese.  

The depth of the soil is an indication of the plants’ potential to establish roots adequate for proper nutrient and moisture uptake and is a function of compaction and plow pan depths. When looking at soil in your field, you can often see plow lines in ground that has been overworked. Using minimal till farming systems ensure less disturbance aiding in healthy microbial populations and supplying adequate oxygen to support a balance of diverse communities.

Chemical-

The chemical indicators include pH, which is directly related to biological and nutrient availability in the soil. Electrical conductivity is an indicator of overall plant growth response, microbial activity, and salt tolerances.  A measure of plant available nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) is an indication of potential soil fertility and potential for N and P loss.

Every one to three years you should have a laboratory soil test done for pH, OM, CEC, base saturation, macronutrients, and micronutrients tested.

However, using a pH-electroconductivity meter in the interim is a good idea to monitor soil health in the field. Several meters on the market do an adequate job for field use. They run anywhere from $99-to several hundred dollars. If purchasing one is cost prohibitive, check with your local extension service. Often, extension or conservation district offices have equipment for farmers to borrow for field analysis.

 

Biological-

The biological health of the soil is indicated by everything from plant growth to the presence of the tiniest of microbe’s unseen to the naked eye and everything in between. Good field indications of a healthy microbial population are the presence of earthworms and in a grazing system Dung Beetles. Something you don’t hear of often, and I think overlooked. Ask any grazer that I’ve walked their fields; I’m usually ignoring them while picking through piles of poo. All though small in size they make up for it in function and usefulness. Dung Beetles are natures manure spreaders. An earthy smell is an indication of balanced microbial life as well.

Where soil health can be assessed with field indicators, soil fertility is the quantitative measure of the signs earlier mentioned. Soil fertility is defined as the soils ability to supply essential nutrients to the plant. I’ll add that it should be done with sustainable economically minded practices and inputs that can be implemented by the farmer. The Cadillac of all farming systems and fertility programs are pointless if the farmer can’t pay for, comprehend, or implement them.

The measure of soil fertility is done through several laboratory tests and indexes quantifying OM, physical characteristics, chemical characteristics, and quantifiable biological populations. I often get asked what laboratory test a grower should do and how often. The answer is not always as straightforward as one might think. It ultimately depends on the level at which you want to manage your specific farm and are the costs involved justified. Far too often I see farms using highly specialized tests and achieving the same results another grower did with consistently monitoring field indicators. Each test is another layer of management that needs to show enough return on investment to be feasible.

The following tests are available nationwide. The following is not an exhausted list; it is a reference to tests I recommend or have used with growers. If you know of other, let me know.

Comprehensive soil analysis

Manure/compost analysis

Plant tissue testing

Diagnostic disease and insect testing

Sap testing

Brix level testing

Biological respiration testing

Biological Identification and population assessments

Each test comes with its pros and cons. If the level to which you manage your farm warrants the cost associated with each one then having the extra quantified information can be of value.

Grab a shovel, get out and walk your fields. Consistent field monitoring with consistent and applicable testing are management strategies necessary to achieve soil health and manage soil fertility leading to a successful and profitable farm.  

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Ag 101 Week 27

Six Steps to Planning a Dinner Party Cont'd - The Menu

      Soil Fertility 

This is the last part in the Six Steps to Planning a Dinner Party. I referred to it in earlier posts as The Menu. Well, this is the last part I'm going to talk about. Step six is to harvest, plant, and repeat. I also went out on a limb and recorded a video for this week. At the end of the post, I include the talking points I used to make the video. There is a lot of eye rolling, I look like I'm in a fishbowl and on drugs, and it lasts a whopping 29:45! At the 17:36 mark, I should have said biology instead of chemistry. But hey, it's my first time!

 

What is soil fertility? It is managing or balancing soil nutrients to improve crop production

1.     Agronomy is the management of soil and the crop you are growing in it. Its taking science and making it practical for the farmer to achieve fertile soil

2.     How you do it is based on the farmers' goals, management decisions, and limitations

Points to consider

1.     No farm – Soil or farmer is the same

2.     No one management style or decision is all-encompassing or is the end all be all 

3.     One agronomist’s definition of a fertile soil and how to achieve it may be entirely different from another’s – It has to be based on the farmers' goals

Three points to consider when planning the menu

1.     Finances

2.     Your limitations/resources

3.     What are your goals

My thoughts on a soil fertility program

1.     Spoke at length in Week 23 about what an agronomist should be asking about

2.     A program needs to be built based on the soils inherent properties, not the latest and greatest

3.     pH is the last thing I look at but the first thing I take into consideration

4.     A sound fertility program starts before the first crop goes in and ends when your done farming

5.     It is not complicated, or at least it shouldn’t be.

6.     No, I don’t write or talk at any more length then generalities because I wrote a free eBook and several posts about specific amendments. But most of all point 1 of points to consider

7.     There’s nothing new – Trust me I’m looking every day

8.     I will answer calls and emails all day long about yours, ask my family

Most important it all goes back to week 2 and the triangles

Ag 101 Week 19

Grounds for That

I’m talking coffee grounds this week. It all started when I happen to see a post on Facebook from my local coffee shop 3J's Coffee . They were advertising they had free coffee grounds for your compost pile. I thought to myself  “It’s good they sent the right message and said need compost not fertilizer?

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https://www.facebook.com/3jscoffee/posts/1872362372776188

I happen to stop in later in the week and saw the owner. I mentioned that I appreciated the fact that they said for your compost pile. She said thank you and from there this week’s topic was decided.

It’s not something the large-scale grower considers. I realize this. I was even thinking about ditching the topic altogether. After last week’s half-assed attempt to instill wisdom about the use of vinegar, I was convinced I needed to step up my game and talk about more serious-minded agronomic topics like how to grow 200 bushels of corn per acre.

Then I decided, screw it. Some well-meaning other person has that covered. I’m talking about coffee grounds. And here’s why

1.      A considerable percentage of growers I work with started as hobby or backyard growers.

2.      The industry lacks for current if any research regarding anecdotal information about inputs used             by naturally-based or certified organic growers.  

As I mentioned, a considerable percentage of growers I work with started as hobby or backyard growers. They bring with them all the googled, passed down, well-meaning information gardeners’ like to share. Then they become a CSA/market grower doing it on a larger scale with that same backyard information mindset. Not that there isn’t value to that. I’m not putting anyone or anything down. But to scale up, you have to think up and ditch the backyard mindset. Don’t lose the zeal and excitement for growing great produce or vegetables but take your thinking aka management to an elevated level on par with the scale it takes to supply a CSA or market.

One of the nuggets of great info out there is the practice of using coffee grounds as fertilizer. I understand the positive environmental impact it can have to keep them out of landfills. I also realize that there is very little if any real data to support the fertility claims that are made.  I often hear things like, “I use it for my rose bushes with a banana peel, and they grow bigger and bigger every year. I have the best roses in town!” For the backyard grower that might be sufficient evidence, however, for a production level grower, it is not scientifically based research adequate to be of benefit to a CSA/market scale system.

In an abstract from Urban Forestry & Urban Greening Vol. 18 August 2016 pg. 1-8, it suggests not to use coffee grounds in a horticultural production setting due to stunted growth and inconclusive data.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866716300103?via%3Dihub

However, in a study conducted in South America, there was evidence that the addition of coffee grounds in Arenosols soils was beneficial.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1475-2743.2010.00315.x

Note that each study was conducted in entirely different settings and different soil types. It’s not comparing an apple to an apple, and that needs to be taken into consideration. There is not enough research out there for me to feel comfortable recommending a grower use it in their fertility program. And what I could find on actual numbers is variable. To get accurate levels of the nutrients and pH, you would need to take a representative sample from each batch of grounds you collected. That almost defeats the purpose of it being an economical addition to a fertility program.

However, I do feel that with what information is currently available coffee grounds could be an excellent addition to composting. Research has been done that suggests coffee grounds could help maintain temperature levels that will kill pathogens. Whether that is entirely accurate or not, due to the fact the research is still somewhat lacking, it still can’t be a bad addition in appropriate amounts.

https://phys.org/news/2008-07-coffee-grounds-perk-compost-pile.html

My stash of coffee grounds headed for the compost pile

My stash of coffee grounds headed for the compost pile

My advice

If you are a gardener doing some composting, use the coffee grounds as an addition to your compost pile. If you want to amend specific areas of your garden directly, apply an appropriate amount and work it into the soil.

If you are a market/CSA grower use them in any composting, you are doing but not directly incorporated in any production areas like greenhouses or raised beds. You should now be at a level you are monitoring and adjusting the fertility of those systems with specific inputs, and due to the variability of coffee grounds, there is the potential for things to get out of balance. If you have a source that can supply them in a large enough quantity while not inundating you with them, get the grounds tested for nutrient content and pH. That way you have an idea what you are working with and can make a more sound decision as to how and where you could potentially work them into a fertility plan. 

Go to your local coffee shop buy a cup of coffee take some time to get to know the owner and staff and while you’re there get a bucket of coffee grounds for your compost pile.

Just as they have the potential to be good for your compost, it might be an excellent way to build a relationship that could potentially turn into a customer for you, and there is always grounds for that.

Again, thank you 3 J’s Coffee Shop in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. You made this agronomist’s day by sending the right message and making a great cup of coffee.

Ag 101 Week 18

Not Your Grandma's Vinegar

This time of year, I get questions ranging from how to keep things alive to how to kill them. One thing I’ve talked a lot about recently is what can farmers and gardeners use for weed control that is relatively inexpensive yet effective.

My first response always includes the obvious cultural practices including, but not limited to-

Maintaining clean fence rows and perimeters

Mow/graze in a timely manner

Cultivate on a regular schedule

Use aggressive cover crops or inter-seeding – by aggressive I mean one that grows fast

When that isn’t enough, and you need to use another alternative my first suggestion is 20% or 200grain vinegar. Just as the title said, this not your grandma’s 5-10% vinegar she uses for pickling or cleaning, but the gnarly eat through your pants kind.

For home and backyard growers

The homemade concoctions you read about, in my experience, are not sufficient even for the home/backyard grower. In my opinion, you need to ditch the dawn/salt/vinegar mix and use the more effective strength vinegar I’m going to talk about. It will save you time and effort, ultimately saving you money as well. Remember size vs. scale? If not refer back to Week 4

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/1/21/ag-101-week-4

So, what kind of vinegar am I talking about – 20% or 200grain vinegar, commonly referred to as Ag or Food Grade. It can be purchased online or at some farm and garden type retailers.

Some points to think about when using 20% vinegar

1.     It is not a systemic herbicide, meaning it will not enter into the plant's metabolism and kill it that way. It is a burn down that may have to be applied more than once. Target younger weeds at the appropriate stage of growth for maximum efficacy.

2.     It is non-selective, it burns whatever it comes in contact with even the person applying it. Be careful and strategic when using it and don’t do it on a windy day.

3.     Make sure you cover as much surface area of the plant as possible, contact is critical.

4.     Growers I work with have found the following rates to be effective

                 For tank mixing 8-10 gallons/acre with as little water as possible

                 For backpack and hand sprayers 50/50 vinegar & water

5.     The general rule of thumb

If spraying to kill spray during the hottest part of the day when the sun is the most intense.

There are several other products on the market for the chemical free, natural, or certified organic grower. They are usually oiled based and have been found useful as well. One of the most common that I have worked with is Nature’s Avenger. For several years I recommended that you dilute it with vinegar. After talking with a field rep from Nature’s Avenger, they have found there is no increased efficacy of either the vinegar or their product using it that way.

My suggestion to a grower is to start with a single chemistry first while maintaining good cultural practices. If weed pressure escalates and cannot be efficiently controlled with one chemistry instead of mixing products, alternate spraying with a different one.

Have questions – don’t hesitate to ask

I like Them Raw

Once again, it’s been awhile since I blogged. I’ll be honest, between life, kids, my bad attitude towards social media, compounded by the fact I hate to type, I just don’t do it as much as I should.

Since that is out of the way, I’ve been meaning to start a series of posts about several topics I was going to present on this past summer. Why I didn’t get the chance to present them is a topic for another day. 

Today I'll start with unusual edible perennials and how to use them to promote healthy soil in your garden. 

 I've grown all the plants I talk about except for one, stinging nettle. However, as soon as I get my hands on some I’m planting it.

Let’s start with Jerusalem Artichoke or Sun Choke.

Sun Choke in my garden

Sun Choke in my garden

 

Definitely plan ahead when deciding on a location to plant it. They are prolific and can become invasive unless managed properly by giving them adequate space and harvesting them completely unless you want them to spread. Take into consideration their height. Mine have grown to be about 4ft. Think about that when planning around shorter plants so they don’t shade them out.  

The plants are a good source of biomass to add organic matter, sometimes called green manure. Organic matter is the storage bank important for nutrient management.

Because they are a tuber they may help mitigate some compaction issues. I’m not advocating growing them to totally remediate the issue, however, using a plants growth habits can help reduce adding amendments depending on what scale you are growing on.

Sun Chokes are rich in minerals like phosphorus and potassium. If your manure heavily phosphorus is your limiting factor. That puts you in a situation where you need to add more nitrogen and potassium. Why not look to plants to help fill in some fertility gaps.

Sun Chokes can also be considered as part of a cover crop rotation, taking advantage of the remediation and nutrient advantages, the plant has. Always keeping in mind, the management limitations like pervasiveness.

Last but not least, I grow mine because I like to eat them raw. I've never had them cooked, although I've heard you can. 

Let me know if you grow Sun Chokes and how you use them. If you have any recipes, maybe I'll try them cooked...instead of raw.

I Can't Talk Dirty All The Time

Okay. Maybe not the best title, but that's the reality of my life.

I have kids, they're involved in your not so ordinary after school activities. Our son shot on a competitive shooting team for several years. Fortunately, he is out of school, working, and for the most part self-sufficient. That leaves me with our 12-year-old daughter. Things should be pretty tame at this point, right?! Not so much.

This is where things get interesting....she loves horses. She has been riding off and on since she was almost seven. Since the beginning, she has been competing in mainly barrel racing and pole bending. The one pony she rode was a real star at key-hole and they placed 9th place in the state that year in 4-H. Needless to say, I have been to more than one rodeo. I still don't wear the jeans with the bling on the butt and no I do not wear cowboy boots. They just look painful. 

Here is the challenge, my husband and I are not horse people. He rode one once to impress a girl and fell off. I grew up around them, however, just cleaned stalls and stared at them in the pasture. I've ridden a hand full of times only to realize your butt hurts in places you didn't know you had a butt. I want the make and model that doesn't move he wants one that doesn't poop. Given our background, you would think that would be the other way around?!

Our daughter wanted the one that goes fast. Several weeks ago she got her wish. His name is Cruiser and he is a lean mean running machine that is terrified of his reflection, lawnchairs, cows, plastic bags, butterflies, and his fly mask. We obviously - I mean the 12-year-old - has her work cut out for her.  

With all their issues they need to work out, she couldn't be happier. This has taken us a long time to get to this point and has not come without a lot of worrying, planning, and help from some great friends.  

Do I talk dirty a lot? Yes. In fact and much to the 12-year-olds chagrin, I can talk dirty even at the barn.  Maybe, I'll talk about that next.

But lately, it's been all about the horse.

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What's an Agronomist Anyway?

22 years since I graduated college and my mom still thinks it means I spent a lot of money to make mud pies. If you ask the average person on the street half of the time they can’t even pronounce it. Ask my kids and the answers range from earthy science to what keeps the horse alive. Obviously, the horse is important to someone in our house because her answer to everything revolves around him.

I had a conversation with a colleague which they proclaimed “All I need to do is get this agronomy thing figured out and I will have all the information I need to be a successful agronomist.” This makes total sense. I’ve worked with people who read a book about soil and dubbed themselves an agronomist.  If that’s all it took, I wish someone would have told me before I spent all those years working in the field and paid all that money for college. A farmer’s tan is not as attractive as one might think and I could have spent the money on something else, like... Well, I’m not sure what. I am sure it would not have been as expensive as the piece of paper I got at graduation.

Googles definition of agronomy is the science of soil management and crop production. So, an agronomist must be the person who helps the soil and the plant get along, Right?!

Here is what it means to me.

On any given day as challenges and questions are posed to me I have to think like a biologist, a chemist, a botanist, sometimes a pathologist, and if I’m really confident an entomologist. Usually, I defer to experts on the pathology and entomology. I know enough to be dangerous and kill stuff. I have to understand how fertilizers and pesticides work, what they are used for, and how to apply them. I have to take into consideration environmental factors, economic implications, and management limitations or expectations. I need to be aware of all the different types of farming systems and have enough knowledge on the subject to make reasonable decisions for my growers. I need to understand the type of grower I’m working with. What their needs are and what they are willing to pay for them. I have to understand their challenges and offer solutions they can and are willing to implement. As if that isn’t enough I have to communicate effectivity with whatever type of grower, farmer, or producer I’m working with. They need to have a clear understanding of what I can do for them, and what it is they need to do. Sometimes, as hard as it is for me, I have to be nice.

All of this requires a lot of talking and asking on my part. I’m to the point I think I should have a questionnaire for people to fill out. The thing is as I ask a question the answer may lead to another question I might have and it is all specific to that grower’s situation. And this brings me to what I think agronomy is…. the relationship I build with the farmer, grower, or producer I’m working with at that moment. Just as the plants are in a relationship with the soil they are growing in, I’m forming a relationship with the person I’m working with. It’s more than just figuring out this agronomy thing so I can have world domination. I’ve been at this for a while and I have yet to totally figure it out. It’s more than reading a book, it requires reading and learning constantly. It’s the relationship I’m willing to build with growers to ensure they can grow the best crop, have the best yield, or have the most productive garden they have ever had.  

When people ask me what an agronomist is I say “It's the person who helps people build a relationship between the soil, the plant, and the person responsible for them.”