Monday, July 29, 2013

Controlling the surroundings in which you grow food plants with shade net tunnels, frost blankets, mni hoop houses and Greenhouses

A shade net tunnel, as above, can be effective in limiting the damage that can sometimes be the result of otherwise fairly harsh conditions. Sunny days can sometimes produce extremes of temperature that inhibit the growth of many species.n Shelter under even a blue twenty percent shade net can be ideal.

The particular shade net tunnel pictured above is a Positive Cycle brainwave, it can be purchased in kit form now. 

We also make mini hoop houses which are great for helping little seedlings to thrive before they are exposed to the harsher outside conditions. Just lift for watering and leave the unit propped partly open to allow air to flow once your plants have passed a certain size. 

Aquaponics and moving water provide an opportunity to control temperature in a more advanced way. Tanks of water can be used to hold temperature and distribute it to other areas. Water of course is also how we move nutrients to their targets, the roots. So feeding fish and moving water around in ponds full of fish suddenly start making much more sense.

Compost heaps create heat, and this fact can be taken advantage of when considering the idiosyncracies of your own particular microclimate. You could take advantage of the heat from your compost heaps to create the warmth needed for say bean seedlings to grow.
Mini Hoop House. Like a mobile germination chamber.

The height of plants used as borders cn also greatly assist the air temperature in your beds, and a good layer of mulch will definitely help to stabilise the microclimate and keep the soil warmer than if it were bare. 

It is perfectly possible to keep everything growing all year round. A simple greenhouse allows you to take control of the growth cycles of almost any plant.

What is a microclimate?

To elaborate on what a microclimate is, not everyone realises that we are talking about something as small as one garden. Micro climatic conditions vary from one garden to the next. Describing a micro climate is a way of describing the weather as it is effected by factors like rows of trees (which may break the wind) large tarred surfaces (which allow wind chill to build up speed) the planting of tall grasses that slow down air movement near the earth's surface and even the colour of the soil and plants, since more reflective colours reflect more heat. How much water there is nearby and whether that water is flowing or not are factors that influence not only local temperature of a particular micro climate, but also moisture levels. How much moisture is present in both air and soil has a profound impact on soil life and which types of plants will thrive in the microclimate in question. So when we realise that a microclimate is in fact something very local, impacted on by the local geomorphology, but also by man made and very changeable factors: It becomes obvious that we can exert a degree of control over our microclimate. A greenhouse for example is perhaps the ultimate example of a controlled microclimate, but you can take control of issues like frost in your garden by spreading hay around vulnerable plants. You can add light to your garden by using a reflective mulch like peanut shell mulch. Flowing water reduces the air temperature around it and windbreaks prevent unstable temperature and freezing soil. So get to work creating the best possible micro climate in which you can grow all of your own food. It's easy once you get started.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Planting times and how they vary across the country

A frequently asked question in Positive Cycle Training Company Workshops is 'when can we plant what'. Its a simple enough question, with a somewhat complex answer. While it is very true to say that during August we plant, for example, bush and climbing beans, beetroot, brinjal and carrot as well as strawberries, turnips, sweet peppers and of course tomatoes it is also true that some of these will struggle in certain parts of the country during August. Experienced growers develop a sense for what is going to work in their region and even within their own micro climate. An extreme example would be the difference between Sutherland (the coldest region in the country) and Northern Kwa Zulu Natal. Obviously we could expect tomatoes to thrive in the warm spring of the near tropical north of South Africa while they would almost certainly not survive the still freezing mountainous conditions of Sutherland.
A more subtle climatic variation though, would be the two degree difference in average temperature between the Johannesburg area and those farms found immediately north of Pretoria. The slightly warmer conditions north of the Witwatersrand watershed would allow for earlier planting of tomatoes than the micro climates found nearer to Johannesburg's peri urban areas.
So local experience, and of course planting on slopes that face the right direction, make a difference to all crop planting and harvest times.
Now here is where things get a little more interesting. Given the need to save seeds and sow them year upon year, we can reasonably conclude that seeds grown successfully within a particular micro climate will be 'hardened' or adapted to that particular set of climatic conditions. Meaning that if we were to harvest seed from the areas north of Pretoria after many successive generations and plant them South of the Rand, they may well fail since those seeds would not be adapted or ' naturally selected' to survive the slightly colder conditions.
So we see that planting seeds suitable to a particular area, as well as in the right time frame for the climatic conditions found in that area is necessary in order to facilitate successful organic crop performance.
Not only that, but we have to consider not just the timing, but the actual conditions being experienced in each particular micro climate. So it is not simply a matter of looking up what to plant on a calendar, but rather to be aware of what temperature, moisture and light ranges each particular crop or variety of crop needs in order to grow successfully.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

We're selling the produce...At last!

This Spring is looking very exciting so far. Positive Cycle is now managing and training so many successful peri urban micro farms that even the administration is quite a bit of work. We're on top of it though and it looks like our long time goal/dream of actually stimulating micro economic growth is beginning to take hold. Paulis Foods have been purchasing high quality veg from our micro farms. This is such excellent news. The produce is of the very highest quality and their company gets bragging rights for being among the first to realise that bringing micro economic farmers into the supply chain is a vital step for the health of South Africa's economy. It's also wise because when Positive Cycle trained farmers grow produce, they do it properly. The food our projects produce is the healthiest and most nutritious on the market. No we haven't tested that in a laboratory, it just works out that way when you use the full complement of bio dynamic agricultural techniques. There are right and wrong ways to grow food and we do it the right way. Not braggin you understand, just passionate. The Positive Cycle training company and GRO4U edible landscaping service were a long time in the planning stages and now that they have both been fully functional for several years we are starting to see spectacular results like these Lesabe Primary School.

So in short, yay for Paulis Foods!!! (BTW, the food is the best in Johannesburg, so its not only responsible, it's also delicious.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Battle against Monsanto

It often seems as though some do not take the bio dynamic model of agriculture very seriously, but make no mistake, people are fighting tooth and nail to try and break the iron grip that industrialised mono-culture has on agriculture. Support for the work done by Positive Cycle  is certainly present in society. Bio Watch a Durban based NPO has fought a nine year legal battle against Monsanto which you can read about.
It seems counter intuitive that a company doing business in such an insidious way has been allowed to operate to such an extent that they are a global force. It's unpleasant to realise that many are still ignorant of how these corporate giants can steal our food supply by owning the genetically modified organisms they sell as food items. There are legal battles underway in different countries all over the world to settle ownership of seed and gene stock. India, and Bolivia, as well as a few other independent minded nations and courts have ruled that original strains were a common heritage.Monsanto erred when they damaged their genetic build, and cannot claim that they 'own' the new organisms. That of course is reality, something most of the world is still ignoring. As individuals we can consult a list of monsanto products to avoid and do our best to eat natural foods.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Positive Recycle

Positive Cycle is pleased as punch to announce the formation of our new division, 'Positive Recycle'. In the years spent learning and teaching the art and science of growing food and useful plants without chemicals from labs but rather the natural substances available to use as pesticides and soil inputs, our company discovered the incalculable benefits of recycling food waste. Using anaerobic fermentation, we are able to turn food and other types of organic wet waste into incredibly potent fertilisers and compost. In combination with vermiculture, this system, known as 'bokashi' is set to revolutionise the recycling industry, not to mention play a vital role in off setting the costs of soil augmentation. Bokashi bins are to become a common sight in every home, school, shop, restaurant and office. In fact, we hope to create such a level of awareness, and provide such a high quality service in this field, that failing to recycle food waste will become a shameful thing that decent people simply don't admit to. If you would like to help, if protecting and even promoting the environment has meaning for you (and it should) we would encourage you to get in touch with us by clicking on the header of this post and doing your part by buying our inexpensive and properly carried out recycling systems and services.