I'm Going to be Honest

It hasn't been real fun here at The Accidental Agronomist Headquarters lately. I have to admit  I've been pouting. It's not the mature adult thing to do, but sometimes it's all I feel like doing.  I'm behaving immaturely for several  reasons.

My mechanic is mad at The Bitch who has been in the same position for over two weeks. I'm now referring to it as "jacked up" because it literally has been. At this point I would like to sell it to recoup some of our expenses.....my mechanic would like to bury C4 in it and watch it burn. We obviously have to reach some kind of middle ground. He once asked me if I wanted a Cadillac. My response was, "They seem pretentious and overrated." I'm not going to elaborate on my thought's regarding BMW's  right now.

The main reason for my bad attitude is the self-inflicted change in career choices I recently made. I stripped myself of the title of Agronomist at the #1 organic fertilizer company and demoted myself to working for a wholesale greenhouse. But, there's the challenge I'm having. I really didn't want to leave. I made the decision for personal reasons based on the work atmosphere I didn't want to be part of anymore. I actually enjoyed the "job" part of what I did.  I learned more spending time with the farmers and growers I worked with than I did in college. No offense to higher education, I have one. So now not only is my husband, my mechanic, he has now become my therapist. He has explained that it was, in fact, my decision to leave, I need to grow up and life will go on.

Now on to another reason for my bad attitude. The rain..........Can it rain anymore in the state of Pennsylvania? Obviously, it can because they are calling for more as I'm writing. I will state for the record I'll be the first to complain about the hot dry weather once it gets here. The rain has caused havoc in my garden to the point I will be replanting over half of it. Yes, so called educated people in the field screw up too.

In honor of the rain and to talk about what is closer related to all things agronomy/gardening I'm introducing you to my rain barrel.  I know it's not high tech and nor did I need an engineering degree to do it. I simply traded a homemade banana cake with marshmallow frosting for the barrel and cinder blocks. The barrel came with the spout in it. I'm sure only because I put extra frosting on the cake. After dragging all that home for two blocks, I cut the spouting to fit into the barrel and covered the top with  a piece of screen I found in the garage. I made sure the spouting doesn't go the entire way to the bottom of the barrel. This way it is easy to move it to clean it out.

Meet My Rain Barrel

Meet My Rain Barrel

I've done some reading on all things rain barrels and don't want to overstate all the reasons you should have one. I came across an article that pointed out some maybe not so good things you should consider when using the water from your barrel. To be honest, I hadn't really taken it to consideration what the water might have in it from being run off from the roof. I know about the little gravel like crap that fills up the bottom of the barrel, clogs the spout, and causes me to curse every spring when I clean it out. But the fact that there could potentially be chemical compounds that might not be so good for the plants and me, well that evaded my thinking. However, all is not lost and I'm keeping the barrel. If you have moderately healthy soil it should act as the filter it is intended to be and remediate anything that as been added to it by the rain water. In my mind, rain waters positives outweigh the potential negatives.

Check out the following links and tell me what you think.


Being on Hold Sucks

I'm sorry I left you on hold so long. You know girls when they get on the phone. Actually, not this girl....I hate the phone. I didn't even cue the elevator music for you. Ironically, I like elevator music. Elevators are not the most pleasant of places for me, especially if you are stuck in one with a person who is a jerk. Trust me, it happen to me at a convention in North Carolina. While in Pittsburgh I had to fight with Mary Kay ladies for 45 minutes just to get in one......I've never seen so many bubbly, understated, and practically dressed women in my life. Ahem…. But for some reason I find that lame incredibly irritating music soothing. That's a subject I'll have to save for later.

The Bitch...getting a ride home with someone else

The Bitch...getting a ride home with someone else

I really can't believe it has been since December that I posted. You see, I’ve hardly been able to find the time to do laundry let alone the multitude of other things I have going on right now. To be honest, I haven't really felt like writing either. Traveling, speaking, raising kids, did I mention laundry, and trying to find time to spend with my husband aka my mechanic, hasn't made it easy for me to write. I've been on the road so much he has spent more of his time fixing and maintaining my car then he has with me. Maybe that's one reason he dubbed her The Bitch. That and she is really high maintenance and can be hard to work on, she's a foreign import. Here's something I've been thinking about.... my husband, aka my mechanic, said one evening....maybe you shouldn't refer to me as your mechanic, it could have another meaning. I really don't know what he means by that. Maybe someone will politely fill me in.

Let's go back to that “feeling like it” thing for a minute. My 'job' has left me a bit disillusioned as well. I'm sure over the course of time I will go into more detail without hurting the innocent too much. For now, I'm going to let that subject alone.

Enough for the excuses. I always tell my kids an excuse is just a reason wrapped in a lie. Stuff like that sounds good until they use it on you.

I left off with my last post talking about soil health. Boy is that a broad term. After being on the road and talking about it so much I have likened it to how we should view our own health. We should find balance, be realistic with expectations, and we are a reflection of what we eat. If you where to meet me, I'm a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and Almond M&M's. Just the blue and the green M&M's, they're my favorite colors, hence they have no calories. Soil health is about balancing practices and nutrients. If you start with poor soils you need to have realistic expectations about how well your plants will grow. Plants will only grow as good as they eat. Yep folks, plants eat too. All that stuff in the soil is what holds, converts, or becomes nutrients for plants.

Look....a real live worm! In my garden, not the neighbors

Look....a real live worm!
In my garden, not the neighbors

I got to thinking, how can I talk about soil health on a scale most will understand? Then I realized it's that time of year when people are getting their gardens started. If you are like me, you didn't do what you were supposed to at the end of last year. I should have put in a cover crop. Yeah, that didn’t happen. That brings me to….to till or not to till, especially when starting a garden?  When I started my first garden my dad came over to help. He’s an old school conventional kind of guy. He told me all I needed was Round Up and a shovel. We sprayed everything in our path, waiting until it dried, and off we went. Tilling the whole thing with a shovel. Backbreaking and garden breaking. Yep, that was my garden. Nuked and turned, just how it should be. Now I take a different approach, opting not to spray everything with cancer causing chemicals and turning it over so the sun can bake what few worms I had left from spraying that stuff. My practices were in essence killing everything in the soil I needed to produce healthy plants. It disrupted the natural habitat where the soil organisms function and live. Do you know worms actually help till the soil? Go ahead, ditch the shovel. Now, I invest time in the fall to prep my beds by layering compost or manure, peat moss or coconut coir-depending on what I’m planting, and grass clippings or chipped up clippings from our hedge. I let that sit as long as I can, preferably over winter. If I don’t think ahead, which is usually the case, I add some potting mix. I almost forgot…I love leaves! Our son, who is second in command of the grounds crew at our estate, likes to run over leaves with the mower. Okay, I let him do it once and it was a huge mess. Somebody forgot to put the bag on the mower. Now I just throw them into the mix and let nature take its course. You see, everything will compost eventually. 

Work is Calling...I Have to Answer

With all the presentations I have to prepare for I thought it would be fitting to finally talk about agronomy. That way I can accomplish two tasks at once. Please do not let my husband know I am capable of performing multiple tasks at once. He will inevitably place expectations on me I really don't want to maintain. 

The definition of agronomy is a science that deals with methods used by farmers to raise crops and care for the soil, taken from Merriam-Websters Dictionary. When you google the word agronomy you get the following....noun: agronomy - the science of soil management and crop production. If I had known it was that I'm not sure I would have gotten into this line of work! Just kidding, I get the best of both worlds, playing in the dirt and growing stuff.

Let's be serious now. What has always interested me is the relationship the plants and soil form and reactions taking place throughout the life of that plant. It can be short lived as in the case of a radish or lettuce that can be harvested with 25-30 days, or that of celeriac, which can take as long as 120 days to mature. The whole time the plant is in the ground it is forming a partnership with the soil to ultimately become food for someone or something. This brings me to the first presentation I have to give which is on soil health.

So, now I have to define soil health.......wait a minute! I should define soil first, I think I'm putting the cart before the horse and I don't want to upset all the pony lovers in the world. According to Wikipedia it is the mixture of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and the countless organisms that together support life on earth. I have often thought I might run out of stuff to write, then I re-read the last sentence only to realize entire books have been written on each of the components that make up soil. And you thought you would get rid of me in a few weeks. Soil can be further defined by it composition, which is the varying amounts of  sand, silt, and clay giving it structure. An ideal soil has balanced amounts of sand, silt, and clay and is called loam. Organic matter is another important component. It's essentially dead stuff and waste like bugs, animals, manures, and decayed plant material. Bugs are animals and that was really redundant. I didn't delete it so I could use the word redundant. I'm done now. Microorganisms in the soil convert the organic matter into nitrogen, enzymes, and other nutrients for the plant to use. It is also important for things like improving the soils drought tolerance.

This all brings me to what my presentation is about....soil health. The NRCS defines soil health as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Wow, it's like one big family and everyone has to do their part to maintain it. I believe soil health is dependent on and in direct response to how people manage it. It can be managed through tillage, crops, amendments, and fertilizer. Tillage is how you are preparing the soil to be planted, such as turning, stirring, plowing, or possibly planting a tillage radish to do the work for you. There are several ways to use crops as a management tool, two of them being cover cropping and crop rotation. Amendments and fertilizers are not the same. Amendments are just that, they are used to improve or enhance the soils physical properties. They are not necessarily supplying nutrients in the same way a fertilizer is. Fertilizers are made up of components or ingredients that supply nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil or plant and have assigned values to each nutrient, hence N-P-K.

I have to be honest....now the laundry is calling. Over the course of the next several weeks I'll break down in further detail soil health and how we can manage or even improve it. What this really means is I have to finish my power point presentation this week and you all will get to hear about it.

Even an Agronomist Can Get Sick...

I have to admit, I have had some kind of cold/flu for over two weeks now. I'm not complaining, however; it does make it increasingly more difficult to keep up with my responsibilities at home and at work. While at the office this past Thursday I laid down in the middle of my co-workers floor and mooned for 5 minutes.  Definitely not adult like or professional and probably why I am only in the office two days a week, if that.

So, I am posting an article I wrote for my companies newsletter that is sent to our dealers and customers. It was originally published with edits made to that I did not get a chance to see before it went to print. Frankly, it's one of the reasons I started blogging. I was extremely upset someone took my words, changed them, and  then printed it without my permission under my name. The difference between this time and the one printed in the newsletter, I made the changes not someone else. In this version, I took names out to protect the innocent. Not really, it's because I did not ask them first if I could include them and I want to be as respectful as I can to the people I work with.

So here it goes........enjoy! By the way, I will eventually talk about agronomy. I know all two readers, my husband and I, have been waiting. Maybe I've starting talking about it and I don't even know it.

 It’s Not about Fertilizer

I wrote an article several months ago saying I was on a mission to get to know all of you, maybe not in person, however; through phone calls, emails and maybe visits. My co-worker has often said to me I should be careful what I wish for. At this point in time I have found myself doing more traveling in a short amount of time, then in the past 16 years of my current/former career as a stay at home mom. Maybe that’s why we’re called stay at home moms! That being said, I am definitely not complaining. I am extremely grateful to meet you, be invited to your homes and on your farms, and spend time together.

As I travel from place to place and meet a lot of great people either selling or using the #1 organic fertilizer in the country –remember I told you I had to change the names to protect the innocent- I have been asking them one question. Really, I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I don’t know who is learning from whom. The question I have been asking in order to write my article is, “Why do you use the #1 organic fertilizer in the country?” There are all kinds of fertilizer companies, even easier and cheaper ways to get products.  “So why #1? What do we have that they don’t? What is it about #1 that you choose to use it in the first place and continue?”

When you ask a question you have to be prepared for the answer! I thought I would get answers like my dad used it so I use it. Aunt Bessy said to and if Aunt Bessy says to you do. Or, it was the only fertilizer on the shelf….ha! We all know that’s not true. I expected to be talking about the fact our fertilizers feed the biology, the very life of the soil, and discuss the principles behind that. I was prepared to talk about the chemistry involved with each ingredient that makes up our blends and the reactions that take place between them and the components of the soil.

Here are the answers I did get. I have had the pleasure of working with the best backyard gardener, from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. He plants up to 500 garlic bulbs a year. He believes it works. He likes the fact it feeds the soil in order to feed the plant. He likes the fact he can call the office and get answers to his questions.

I had the privilege of traveling with my BOSS –in the office and to his face I am to consider him my teammate/co-worker. He hired me, and to me that makes him at least one of my boss’s- to Florida. Once again, I think I heard…..be careful what you wish for! We spent several days meeting with dealers. While visiting a dealer from the Bradenton area, she said “If you get people to use it right you will have a customer for life because it works and they see the results.” She takes the time to explain how to use it and follows through with education about the products.

Since working at the #1 organic fertilizer company I’ve had the best time talking and working with people on the phone. I recently took time while traveling to a convention in New York to visit farmers and dealers I have had several phone conversations with. My first stop was in Millerton, Pennsylvania. I meant the sweetest couple who have been farming for several years. I spent some time answering questions she had about her greenhouses and once again I turned the tables and started asking them the question…”Why #1?”  Without any hesitation the answer was they chose #1 because of the knowledge their dealer is willing to share with them and the support they get from their dealer and staff from the main office.

From there I went to Livonia New York and had the honor of meeting a farmer that has been working with one of my colleagues for several years. I spent some time talking with her about some projects she is working on and did it again…started to ask her the same questions I have of everyone else.  We sat on a bench overlooking Lake Conesus and she told me it was the way he treated her like she was just as important as a large scale farmer. He always answered her questions no matter how much they seemed out of place; bring her to a better level of understanding improving her knowledge so she could ask better questions making her a better farmer. When she was working with him he said one thing to her that will stay with me. His statement was, “We want you to have your best year. “ Then laid out a plan for her to follow and succeed with. Her success was important to him giving her the confidence she needed.

Over the next several stops I kept asking and listening. There was a common thread throughout the entire trip……the service, the knowledge, the support and the results. It all starts with people. Not once did I hear anything about the fancy packaging, or marketing materials, or the great pens and trinkets. It was all about the people. The one’s who answer the phone, answer the questions, share their knowledge, make the fertilizer, bag the fertilizer, and sell the fertilizer. See, it’s more than fertilizer. It’s like minded people coming together working at their part for a common goal of caring for the earth. I feel we are given the privilege to be stewards of the earth, no matter if you live in the city, the suburbs, or the country. If you have a corporate job, a blue collar job or a farmer, even back yard gardeners count too. People ask me if my husband hunts. I think it’s because we live in Pennsylvania, I’m not really sure though. However, I explain he does but it is for car parts in junk yards. Even he has a part in taking care of the earth!  Cleaning up one junk yard at a time and organizing it in our garage, neatly at least.

#1 is about fertilizer, hence the name-not the fake name #1. The real name I'm not using to protect the innocent.  However, it goes beyond that, it’s the people. 

What do Turkey, Balance, and Agronomy have to do with Each Other?

When you think about it.....nothing unless you raise turkeys that stumble while out foraging. If that's the case you might have more issues then I feel comfortable covering in an afternoon. I know a good agronomist and can recommend an animal nutritionist that would be able to help if your turkey's need it.

What they represent for me is putting together all the pieces of information I dispense to the farmers, growers, and producers I work with and my own philosophical views about the food I eat and feed my family. First, I have been overwhelmed by how personal and decisive the choices we make regarding food are. You tell someone you don't eat pork and you get one label. Tell someone you're a vegetarian and they want to know if you are because you believe animals have right too. Make the decision to eat only organic, than you're a twig and nutter. There's buy fresh buy local, eat raw, eat only what you can grow, go vegan......the list goes on and on. Personally, after the feeling of being overwhelmed, I believe everyone has to choose for themselves and their families. To be honest, at one point in time I have prescribed to one or more of the ideas I listed and probably some others I haven't. Recently my husband said I was one omelet away from being vegan.

Then it happened.....I realized I wasn't practicing what I recommend to all the growers I work with!  I had decided over a month ago to be a vegetarian. Not because I didn't like the fact of eating meat, I was having a hard time buying meat from the grocery store and having no idea where it came from. I had fallen into a rut of running through the grocery store picking up what was convenient and available. Also, I wanted to force myself to eat more vegetables. In my genius mind I thought becoming a vegetarian would solve all my problems. Reducing my need to buy meat from the store and eat more vegetables seemed easy. What I did in fact was eat more bread and Oreo's, totally defeating the purpose. Believe it or not, Oreo's are considered vegan.....if it's good enough for them, it is good enough for me. I was still buying the same meat products for my family.

As Thanksgiving Day was getting closer and closer I started to really think about what I was doing. I had spent half a day looking for Tofurky, only to find it and be astounded at the price.  Then I started contemplating if Thanksgiving Day was going to be as appealing to me cutting into the Tofurky as I thought it would be. While thawing out the turkey, humanely raised by one of my colleagues using organic feed, it happened. Once again, I realized I wasn't practicing what I recommend to all the farmers I work with!

Bob the Turkey

Bob the Turkey

Balance.....you can have your meat and eat it too, if you want to or not, of course. I achieved balance while enjoying the vegetables I bought from a local grower, the raw carrots and celery from the market in town, the bread my husband made, and the sugar/gluten-free organic pumpkin pie I made. We also had chocolate pie that was totally not part of any healthy food choice, but a choice none the less. It represented the processed, sugar laden, and boxed choices we all make at some point in time. The kind my children prefer, which I totally understand however, fight against every day. 

 When working with farmers and growers I can't stress enough to them they have to find balance. Balance has to be found in work, finances, soil fertility programs, expectations for productivity, crop rotations, and management style. This leads me to work with growers on all different levels of experience, productivity, philosophical views, management skills, and traits. I understand not all growers have the market to be certified organic, but still want to provide healthy all natural fruits and vegetables. I applaud the grower who makes the commitment to be certified organic , non-gmo. or both. There is a market for all types.

The balance we find has to be personal and what we are able and willing to maintain. I respect all types of eaters, growers, farmers, and producers. Every time I visit a farm I know I'm there to talk fertilizer, however I want them to be the best at what they are. Once their objective is decided, I want to help them stay the course with a flexible however balanced approach.

I can't wait to talk more about soil fertility. I once made a room full of 200 farmers look up from their nap during a conference in North Carolina when I said, "I make recommendations for custom fertility programs......" Thank goodness they could only see me from my nose up because the podium was so high. It has nothing to do with me being short. Let's get the record straight, it was the podium that was tall. Needless to say, at the end of the presentation I had a line of people who wanted me to look at their soil tests. I think there was something about a girl using the word fertility in a sentence in a room full of guys.....

Can The Same Accident Happen Twice?

If you are The Accidental Agronomist...yes! I found myself in college in the mid 90's studying Biology and had to decide what career path to take. I made the choice to focus on Environmental Biology. This threw me into the world of Agronomy and I have been digging my way out since! I suddenly realized the plants I was studying and learning about lived in the soil. Seems obvious to most, but specializing in a field of study can narrow your thinking. I started taking soil science classes and put the two together. A plant can't grow if it doesn't have something to grow in. As my college career went on I found myself caught between biology and agronomy and never really fit in with either. That was until my college advisor told me about an opportunity to work in the field of  bio remediation.  I began working as an agronomist for an environmental remediation company only to resign three years into it, starting my career as a stay at home mom. Fast forward 16 years and much to my surprise I became an agronomist again. By accident of course!

I came up with the idea to write about the adventures I experience along the way. There is never a day that goes by I don't get to relearn, rediscover or reiterate some things I've know all this time. I don't want to give all my secrets away yet. You will have to keep following to hear all about of that and more.