Our Practices- Deep Dive
I wanted to give our customers and our community a full deep dive into our practices and the products that we use. It is of the utmost importance to David and I that we are transparent with our customers and that a full picture is given so that everyone can make the best possible choices for themselves and their family. I have been troubled by the transparency of other businesses and felt that it was time that we went above and beyond to exemplify our practices. I wanted to put all of this information in one place to make it quick and easy for everyone to access.
The Big Picture
Boundless is a 20 acre property; ten acres in mixed vegetable production and cover crop, one acre orchard, three acres in mixed outbuildings and house, and about six acres in pasture. Here is sort of a crude map from Central Oregon Irrigation District that shows our field. (I tried grabbing a photo from Google Earth, but it is about five years old and does not show our expansion)
The top half of our rectangular field is ten acres (where all of the rows are), the bottom half another ten acres (approximately). The top half is where we grow all of our vegetables/fruit and cover crop. The bottom half is the pastures, orchard, outbuildings, etc.
I want to focus on the top half for a bit. We divide the tens acres of production into 20 Blocks (Labeled 1 through 20). In a given year, the blocks will essentially alternate between cover crop and cash crop/vegetable production. So, for instance, this year all even blocks (2,4,6,8, etc) are in vegetable production, and all odd blocks (1,3,5,7, etc) are in cover crop. The exception is 20 always remains our "perennial" block and there lives our asparagus, rhubarb, echinacea, herbs, sorrel, etc. In those blocks dubbed for vegetable production, each block houses a plant family (or a few plant families). So, for instance, our rotation this year is:
Block 2 alliums, Block 4 brassicas, Block 6 mixed family (chenopods, chicorium, etc), Block 8 potatoes/corn, Block 10 brassicas, Block 12 umbels, Block 14 mixed family, Block 16 asters, Block 18 brassicas
All of these groupings will stay together and will move in rotation together. So next year, Block 10 brassicas will move to Block 11, and Block 10 will become cover crop. Block 12 umbels will move to Block 13, and Block 12 will become cover crop.
Our farm fertility and health is based around these practices: cover cropping and crop rotation.
We find it absolutely crucial to practice this level of crop rotation and cover cropping for a few reasons. Crop rotation is important because: (a) different crop families use different nutrients in the soil and growing them over and over again can either deplete soil or make it so more micronutrients and amendments must be added and (b) crop families can harbor diseases and pests and moving them frequently helps keep from a buildup of either. Cover cropping is very important to our farm specifically because (a) our soil quality is so poor (a very very sandy loam), that we are trying to increase organic matter as much and as quickly as possible, (b) it helps from our topsoil eroding in our extremely windy environment, (c) it adds nutrients back to the soil in "green manure" form, (d) an added bonus is many cover crops act as insectaries and pollinator habitats.
Above are photos of some of our cover cropping areas. We are very passionate about this practice, and David has done an incredible job managing the cover crop part of the operation. Sometimes it feels like another full-time job for him. We plant rye, triticale, winter peas, and crimson clover to overwinter, we then mow and till in the crop. We then plant a non-frost tolerant but fast-growing cover crop like sudan grass or buckwheat in blocks that will be planted early the following spring so that the cover crop will "frost kill" and will lay over to protect the soil the during the winter, but be easy to work up in the spring. In blocks that won't be planted until later in the season, we plant oats. We also have some fun pollinator friendly cover crops we throw in here and there like phacelia and sunflowers. The whole point of this type of cover cropping is to work in as much biomass every season as possible. Our rye cover crop can be up to seven feet tall and our sudan grass cover crop is currently over ten feet tall. This is a lot of organic matter to add back to our very sandy soil.
We do use tillage on our farm, but we try to keep it to a minimum. Hopefully only one or two passes a year.
These are our most holistic practices and what we are basing our farm fertility and health on. That being said, when we moved onto this farm, it had been a conventional hay farm for at least 12 years prior. The soil was very depleted and the microorganisms severely lacking. We have found that we still need to add micro and macro nutrients to the soil every year.
So, what do we do about amendments? First, we do a soil testing every fall/winter. We do a test for each of our greenhouses, the east field cover crop blocks, the east field vegetable blocks, the west field cover crop blocks, and the west field vegetable blocks; in all, we do eight different tests. Soil testing is crucial to know the right amount of nutrients to add without adding too much. Even in organic agriculture, too much organic fertilizer/amendments can be added and can create harm in the environment.
After our soil tests and determining our need, we purchase a few different products and spread them ourselves with our tractor mounted amendment spreader. Our primary form of macronutrient fertility (N-P-K) is a product called Perfect Blend We use the Perfect Blend 6-3-3 which we purchase from Pratum Co-op in Madras. We buy about eight tons a year. The product is mostly chicken manure with feather meal, potash, and sulfur, and is certified organic. We have also been adding Lime to our field which helps to increase the pH of the soil and make it less acidic. We have also purchased micronutrients from Concentrates NW which specializes in organic amendments. We purchase only OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certified products which include: manganese, sulfate of potash, fish bone meal, feather meal, and boron. This year, we only had to purchase feather meal for added nitrogen as our micronutrient levels have reached a more optimal level.
(The video below shows a drive down the field. Notice the different blocks of vegetables then cover crop then vegetables and so on. The blocks of white flowers is a cover crop- flowering buckwheat. The "blank" spaces are spots that have been harvested already and are tilled and ready for more cover crop)
Pest control is something we are constantly adjusting. One approach that we have seemed to start taking more than using any outside medium is just not to grow certain vegetables at certain times of the season when the pests are the worst. For example, we do not grow arugula in the summer because it gets terrible flea beetle infestations, but we do grow it in the greenhouse in the spring and fall.
A new approach we started using this year for insect pests specifically is insect netting. We typically shy away from buying products that just increase plastic production and end up in the landfill, but we thought we would try to treat the insect netting carefully and reuse for as many seasons as we possibly could. Essentially, insect netting kind of reminds me of pulling pantyhose over the plants using metal hoops to keep the netting off of the plant. The netting is then left on the duration of the plants life so that the insects can't get in. This has allowed us to grow crops that we used to lose to insects. For example, radishes and turnips used to get horrible root maggot, making up to 60% of them unsellable. Now, the percentage is down closer to 5-10%.
As far as pest control through sprays, we do not use this very often. When we think about buying anything in this realm of thought, we use Arbico-Organics. Everything on this website is OMRI approved or natural/organic. Last year, we had a horrendous outbreak of spider mites that took out so many crops, I decided to purchase an organic insecticide called Insect Annihilator. This spray is made of rosemary oil, thyme oil, clove oil, and cinnamon oil. We do not like using sprays like this very often, as they can have negative effects on bees even though they are natural and organic and was bought just in case of emergency. We make sure to spray late in the day and avoid the flowering portion of the plants (thus avoiding the bees). We rarely spray plants and usually just take the approach of letting nature take its course.
Our most commonly used pest control product is called BT or Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki. We use the OMRI approved Monterey BT brand. Before we plant all of our transplants, we dip the trays in a mixture of fish emulsion, mycorrhizal inoculant (essentially good fungi), and BT. We started used BT predominantly to save our plants from the devastation of a pest called cutworm. Our first year farming, cutworm killed 30-40% of all of our brassica plantings. Upon talking to other organic farmers in Oregon, we were told that dipping the plants in BT is a common practice and would help save the starts. We now dip all of our starts in BT prior to planting. Here is how it works:
"This biopesticide works by introducing bacterial spores and toxins into the body of the insect larvae as it feeds on foliage. These toxins quickly disrupt, and soon completely stop, normal digestive functions of the pest insect. The infected larvae will cease eating within minutes and fully succumb to the effects of the BTK and die within 2-5 days." (from the Arbico website).
We try to use the least amount of "disruptors" on our farm, and hope that by building healthy soil and a healthy ecosystem over the years, we can move away from using any products at all.
For weed control, we use hands, hoes, and a cultivating tractor.
Our seeds are always non-GMO and non-treated. We do buy a mix of organic and non-organic seed. We buy organic seed whenever it is available in the variety we are looking for and we buy the non-organic when it is not. I am guessing that about 50% of our seed is organic. As more and more people purchase and ask for organic though, the more and more it becomes available. Already in the five years we have been farming here at Boundless, I have seen an uptick in organic seed options.
We purchase our seeds from Johnny's Seeds, Osborne, Territorial, Adaptive, and High Mowing. All of these seeds are definitely non-GMO, some seeds are hybrids and some seeds are open-pollinated. Hybrid plants merely mean that two different varieties were bred together and is very common.
Our cover crop seed mostly comes as conventional, as we have a very hard time finding bulk organic cover crop seed. We hope to someday find a mini combine to be able to grow and thresh our own cover crop seeds.
Chickens, Ducks, and Turkeys
We raise laying hens and laying ducks for egg sales, and meat chickens and meat turkeys for our own personal/family use. We have two coops; one that our older hens (who aren't laying so much, but we can't bring ourselves to cull) and our ducks live in, and one moveable coop that we built on top of our old broken down pick up truck. We also have two smaller "chicken tractors that we use for our meat birds and for transitioning pullets (large chicks/teenage chickens) out to pasture while they are too small to be completely out in the open (because of aerial predation). Our coops are surrounded by moveable fencing. Even with our stationary coop, we try to keep the pasture fresh and move the fence in different directions every 2 to 4 weeks. The chickens are on pasture from dawn until dusk, and at night, are locked up securely in their coops to keep coyotes and owls away.
We feed our poultry the Great American Egg "Egg Layer mix" from a company called Helena. The mix is locally grown and milled, but unfortunately is not organic. It is Non-GMO, no corn, and no soy though. We have toiled over what to feed our birds. In the beginning, we would drive to the Willamette Valley to pick up pelleted organic feed. We debated over whether driving to the Willamette Valley every few months was more or less petroleum than buying non-organic local feed. We still aren't sure and are on the lookout for a better option. Our birds are also fed tons of our veggie scraps. Every day that we are harvesting, we collect the discard leaves, the lettuce cores, etc., and we give them all huge buckets of greens. In the summer, this means they are getting extra veggie scraps at least four days a week. In the winter, it means they are getting mostly kitchen scraps probably one day a week. Our chickens eat a wide diversity of food items: grains, vegetables, fruits, insects, grass, etc. I think diversity is the key to a healthy omnivore.
Other Notes on Organics and our Practices
We try our hardest to use the least amount of plastic on the farm, and yet still we compromise. Sometimes it feels frustrating to feel the necessity to use so much plastic. For example, we use row cover aka remay aka frost cloth. This, plus our plastic covered greenhouses, help extend our season by months and months. Without greenhouses and row cover, we would have a harvest season of probably late June to October. But with those season extenders, we harvest commercially April through November (and for our home the entire year). We also recently started using bird-netting to keep the porcupines, quail, deer, and elk out of our lettuce and chicory plantings. Over the years, we lost tens of thousands dollars in lettuce and chicories. Now, we don't lose any. And, we do not have to build any fences and can let the elk and deer migrate through at their will. We are able to use the bird netting year after year if we are careful with it.
To be sustainable farmers, we also need to be financially sustainable. It is a constant balance of how to be both.
We also have a couple of beehives and would love to add more. We are very conscious of making sure that the farm is an organic and friendly place for them to live.
Why no certification?
When I first met David, he told me that farming was his greatest act of rebellion. By that, he meant that he was not interested in participating in society in the ways we are made to believe we have to. He did not want to become a corporate machine, did not want to answer to the "man," and wanted to live in a way that felt true to himself. I feel all the same ways.
There are two reasons we do not want to certify organic:
1. It feels like the certification has been watered down. While I still believe that purchasing from organically certified farms at the grocery store is always better than conventional, there are still negative consequences large scale organic producers can have. They can use too much organic fertilizer and injure water tables, they can spray tons and tons of "organically certified sprays" and kill beneficial insects and pollinators, they can treat their workers terribly, they can use tons of single use plastic mulch and create mountains of non-recyclable waste, etc. etc. I think there are a lot more things that make a farm sustainable besides just not using chemicals.
2. We do not want to pay to prove we are not using chemicals. It feels to backwards that organic farmers have to pay to prove they are farming holistically, instead of conventional farmers paying to use chemicals on the land.
We always thought that as long as we knew our customers, as long as we talked to them face to face and invited them onto our land, as long as we stayed completely transparent, we would not have to certify. We hope this remains the case. We are open to the idea of certifying in the future if we have to, but until then, we would rather you come say hi and ask us all the questions. That is why we are small scale farmers.
If you have any more questions about our practices, please comment below, send us an email, find us at the farmers market, etc. We would love to answer any questions you have.
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