tea & flowers blog

The Joys and Challenges of Organic Cultivation

 
zinnias

At Looking Glass House & Farm we’re committed to cultivation practices that reflect our appreciation of Nature. Much of my wife’s design inspiration comes from the elegant whims of the natural world. And so do my growing practices. I guess I’d describe them as: part Permaculture, part Biodynamics, a special splash of microbes –  all rooted in a backbone of horticulture. Needless to say, it’s a joy and a test.

‘Year One’ always comes with a unique set of challenges. In our case, those of you familiar with the Tualatin Valley know the curses of hardpan clay and silty loam soils: Steal-your-boots-off-your-feet muck in the winter; dusty, dry-cracked bowling alley during summer. Not to mention, soil acidity outside the range our delicate flowers desire…

Thus, it takes some work – and patience. And even magic in some cases.

Cut flower guru Paul Sansone has soil beds at his property he’s been nourishing for over 30 years. One day when I was at his spot downloading some knowledge he remarked: “Yeah, they pretty much form themselves into beds at this point.” I laughed. He didn’t.

To my lamentations about our Year One beds, my good buddy James Brougham – manager of Sparrow Hawk Farm – simply reminds me: “Dude. It takes years.”

And it does.

Having had our fair share of Year Ones, we know the protocol to jumpstart a new spot: educate and remediate. Drawing from past experience, OSU Extension Service literature and other cut flower grower all-stars, we’ve implemented specific amendment practices. Examples include organic inputs from Concentrates, Inc. and locally-sourced compost from Recology.

As a soil microbiology romanticist – that’s a thing, right? – I also carry out ongoing remediation. Procedures such as frequent applications of compost teas. Magical, teeming-with-life extracts of earthworm castings, Biodynamic compost and wild forest humus. Hence, the ‘special splash’ mentioned above. It’s really one of my favorite tasks.

So with some foresight and toil we’ve created nourishing berths. And – despite Year One – transplanting and rooting has led to some romantic blooms.

We’re pleased.

bachelor's buttons

With the blossoms have come delightful accompaniments. Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a glowing ecology that’s a pleasure to harvest in.

But with the beauty come further challenges.

Garden pests are the ever-present opposition to our mission. Some of the usual suspects are flower thrips and various bugs that munch tender leaves and petals. Having cultivated at scale in the past, we practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It’s “an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests...through a combination of techniques” (UC IPM).

Conventional pest management often includes broad-spectrum insecticides and herbicides. You know, products with active ingredients that are difficult to read, much less pronounce.

Having studied agricultural runoff a bit in academia, many of these active ingredients cause downstream problems. Some examples include endocrine disruption in amphibians (e.g., hermaphroditism) and super-bugs and -pathogens that become increasingly resistant to modern treatments…

So we avoid harsh products and opt for a more ‘Eco’ approach.

Diligent monitoring and application of biological controls help keep the pests at bay. We try to keep the bad guys in check the way Nature does: with ecology and living organisms – not harsh killers.

Persistence pays off in this context. Yet, it can be a headache; the opposition is also unrelenting...

iceland poppy

But at the end of the day it’s an aesthetic dream. Our little slice of valley has color and movement. It’s a fantastical origin of the products we deliver. And overshadowing the many challenges is the joy in knowing that our practices are clean.

Furthermore, we strive for a reason. It’s not always clear during toilsome times. But the finished product is a lovely reflection of what we love about the natural world. It’s what we want to contribute to our customers’ lives: romance, magic and elegant whimsy.

–Wally

 

 

Often hasty we are in the Words of the Wise,
Make a farm, make a flower all in Year One.
 
Yet toil begets beauty beneath Western skies;
And tedium gives way to resolute fun.
 
With Nature we ride the Waves of the Wind.
In the wake of the glow, the Journey begins.
 
Delivered to you is elegant whim:
Its origin benign, its future not grim.
 
–J.W.R. Daniel