August is vacation month. It’s our slowest month of the year harvest and packing wise so we all try to cram some time away while we can. Erik and I were salmon fishing in Alaska this past week with some great friends who have a condo and a boat up there. I think the only thing better than having a condo and fishing boat in Alaska is having a friend who does and even drives the boat!
Latter part of this week, my friend Paul and I are planning to spend some time backpacking in the high country with some fly rods and the salmon’s little cousin the trout; should be some stories to share.
Okay, the amazing new world of microbiology has been our subject these past couple weeks so let’s get back to it.
First though, a confession: I don’t necessarily know how all this stuff works. It’s similar to my relationship with electricity. I can wire motors, I could come wire your house in a basic farmerly way but I still experience wonder each time I do that and the motor pulls the conveyor or the lights come on. I know the basic mechanics and theories, I can figure out what gauge wire but not the science.
What has clicked for me though is to start by seeking a microbial solution to whatever challenge arises. As an example – believe it or not – aphids have been a pretty big problem for us organically in several orchards and over the years, have killed a couple acres of trees. I knew exactly how to get rid of them conventionally, but we’re in unchartered territory and there just isn’t anyone to call for advice organically.
We weren’t just sitting there idly watching; we were actively trying insect predators and ant containment but the little guys were unfazed. Finally, we used a combination of microbes and nutrients to strengthen the trees and for whatever reason, the brown aphids left.
Introducing good microbes into the soil along with balanced nutrition (for the sake of microbial rather than orchard health) has reduced greatly the amount of manure we need to keep our orchards productive. Doing the same above ground helps the tree absorb the nutrition.
What we have seen on our little farm is frankly wondrous. Worms cause a lot less grief, fruit is not only more sound, it just tastes better as you have all experienced.
So if all this stuff works on the farm, the big question becomes: how many of our current health problems could be cured through biology instead of chemistry? Again, I don’t know. What I do know is I take a probiotic every morning now because that’s how my mind has started to work (and I’m rarely sick).
Similarly, there’s also work being done with amino acids to turn on specific microbes that enable our bodies to fight off cancer and our plants to fight off pests. From what I’ve seen, this is the brave new exciting healthy world. After just 41 seasons of farming, I have so much to learn. I want to get to the point of confidence I had as a conventional farmer that says: ‘This challenge can be met with this biology’ rather than this chemical.
It’s a worthy objective for me professionally as a farmer and all of us as a society. Keeping everyone healthy just has a nicer ring than curing everyone’s illness.