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Dean Pomerleau

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Wow. That FarmBot is really cool! Thanks for sharing it. My only reservation is I enjoy the "personal" connection I develop with my plants, and nature in general, via gardening. FarmBot seems like it would detract from that connection.


I liked the Hitler Homeowner Owner Association video too. Fortunately my HOA can't (yet) know about or control what plants I grow under high-intensity lights in my basement. No - not that kind of plant, Sprouts!


Join the resistance. Grown your own sprouts and microgreens.



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Are you guys taking full advantage of mulch. Grass, leaves, dead weeds can make a considerable difference in how much water you need for a garden. I try to get at least a few inches around my plants. Generally stays moist unless we get a long dry spell. And of course a walk in the woods will teach that to anyone paying attention!

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I've used organic mulch ingredients to help retain moisture in the past. It works pretty well for that purpose, but also has drawback.


In particular, I like to harvest the outermost leaves of my leafy greens first, leaving the inner leaves to grow for later harvest when they get larger. But with organic mulch, the outermost leaves are inevitably lying in the organic material covering the soil, making them prone to the accumulation of dirt and insects, not to mention rot and insect damage. 


Planting through clean, weed-suppressing fabric rather than organic mulch provides the best of both worlds. It helps the soil retain moisture (actually better than mulch), and is clean and insect free, making the outermost leaves easy to harvest and much nicer to eat.


I'm surprised more people don't garden this way. But I was heartened to see that my CSA farmer reported he's trying the same thing this year himself (using black plastic instead of weed suppressing fabric). From his most recent weekly newsletter:


This field is planted through black plastic. Our first three fields are planted this way.


Here is a picture he sent along with the newsletter to illustrate his (obviously larger scale!) mulching strategy:




It looks like he's planting through the black plastic, and using hay for mulch between the rows.



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Dean, I like your fabric/plastic instead of mulch idea. Conserving water is a high priority for me. This is my first growing season. Currently I use wood chips.


When a vegetable plant is small and thus its base is small,  in order to cover all or most of the soil, the fabric/plastic needs to be placed close to its base. When the plant grows bigger, would you gradually move the fabric/plastic away from its base to make room?

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As I described earlier, I cut an 'X' in the fabric with a knife that is about 3-4" across, then pull back the flaps and plant the seedling through the resulting hole. The hole through the fabric is plenty big for even the fattest stalk or stem to fit through. No need to make room as the plant grows. And water goes through the fabric, so I just water through the fabric adjacent to the plant.



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I suppose the farmbot is cool, but it would have been cooler if the demo garden for the video was designed by a gardener.  They planted a variety of species on an even grid which makes little sense as different plants have different space needs.  Made the text about optimizing for each plants needs sound kind of ridiculous.

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A Visit to the CSA Farm


It's been a very busy day, with major technical posts about time-restricted feeding and olive leaf tea, along with a raft of other, minor posts. Time to unwind with a fun one. 


Today was my weekly pickup at my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I'm fortunate to live near the CSA farm, so rather than just get a box of pre-selected produce delivered, I get to go to the farm and chose the produce I want. This is a huge advantage, that I really take advantage of. Here is what I saw and picked out today. 


First I stopped at one of his fields, to document for myself the "plant through plastic" technique he mentioned in his newsletter, and I mentioned above. Here is a photo of what I believe to be strawberry plants poking up through the plastic:




Them's gonna be a lot of delicious fresh strawberries!


I then went inside to pick my produce. Here a couple shots of the all the options, laid out on tables (sorry they turned out a little blurry but you get the idea):








Here is a picture of my box, after I made my selections:




Clockwise from the upper left, the items I selected (all of it fresh and local from his farm or nearby farms) were:

  • Garlic scapes
  • Radishes
  • Blueberries (2 pints)
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Cucumber
  • Yellow Squash (2)
  • Stem tomatoes (4)
  • Strawberries (1 qt)
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli

How gorgeous is that box!  Real produce porn.


The price I pay works out to about $22.50 per week. Life is good.



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Dean, your visit of your CSA looked great! Thanks for sharing!


Is your CSA farm an organic one? I called my local master gardeners' hotline and asked them questions about my own veggies and fruit growing. I also threw in a question about using fabric/plastic after I read your update here. They did not like the idea of fabric/plastic because:


1. It is not part of organic farming;


2. It may overheat the soil and the plants


3. To avoid/reduce insects problems and disease, they recommended cutting off the lowest leaves of a plant so its base won't touch the mulch.


How would you respond?

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Is your CSA farm an organic one?


No, as it says on my CSA's website:


Sustainable Practices
We use sustainable practices throughout our entire farm.  Some examples include, but not limited to, the use of  beneficial insects, organically certified pesticides, pelleted chicken manure fertilizer, crop rotation, cover cropping, and rye straw mulch.
Interestingly, on their homepage they show several examples both mulching hay and planting through plastic/fabric.

 I called my local master gardeners' hotline and asked them questions about my own veggies and fruit growing. I also threw in a question about using fabric/plastic after I read your update here. They did not like the idea of fabric/plastic because:


1. It is not part of organic farming;

Sigh. How typical that first answer. If a practice is not part of some rather arbitrary often counterproductive definition of "organic" it has got to be bad. Reminds me a lot of the Paleo diet movement. "Legumes? Our neolithic ancestors didn't eat them, so they must be bad." Same with the anti-GMO lunatics, and anti-vaxxers. 
Whether intentional or not, I consider today's organic food industry and standards pretty much a scam, which has the effect of benefiting big organic corporations who can afford to jump through all the hoop required for organic certification, hurting little farmers in the process, and hurting consumers in two ways. First, the overall price of fruits and veggies (organic and conventional) goes up, harming everyone but especially poor people who can't afford to eat healthy. Second, it gives everyone, rich and poor alike, the impression that conventionally grown food is toxic, and so you might as well eat potato chips. "Both conventional produce and chips are toxic, but at least the taste good and are dirt cheap, so I'm goin' stick with the chips."
I consider the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" pretty much hogwash. This study [1] estimates that for every 20,000 cases of cancer prevented by increased consumption of (conventionally-grown) fruits and veggies, an addition 10 cases of cancer would be caused by the pesticide residue on / in them. I'll take them odds any day. Here is a good article debunking the EWG lists, and the benefits of eating organics in general. Interestingly, I just listened to a new podcast by raw food vegan Andrew Perlot in which he talks blasphemously (for his community) to a plant pathologist about the myths surrounding organic foods. Here is the YouTube version of that 1:20min interview:
As for the 2nd and 3rd objections from your "master gardener" to using man-made ground cover in farming/gardening, namely:

2. It may overheat the soil and the plants

3. To avoid/reduce insects problems and disease, they recommended cutting off the lowest leaves of a plant so its base won't touch the mulch.


The proof is in the pudding, or the eating. I showed you the results my CSA farmer is getting planting through plastic or fabric - in the form of my CSA box photo from yesterday.
Here are my own results - pictures from my garden I just took this morning to show how well everything is is growing through the weed-suppressing fabric. First a couple wide shots of my vegetable bed and my tomato bed:
Now a couple closeups of the plants growing up through the fabric, and leaves resting on it:
What a useless suggestion your master gardener gave you to "cut off the lowest leaves of a plant so the base won't touch the mulch". For leafy greens like the arugula on the right of the last image above, the foliage is constantly springing up in the middle and folding down on the outside, to eventually and inevitably touch the ground, as you can see. Cutting off the lowest leaves (and eating them!) is exactly what I do. But preventing them from touching the surface is not an option. Silly master gardener...
By the way, it's not just me and my east coast CSA farmer who see the benefits of this style of gardening/farming. Gardening experts from your area also endorse planting through weed suppressing fabric or plastic
[1] Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Dec;50(12):4421-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.055. Epub
2012 Sep 5.
Estimation of cancer risks and benefits associated with a potential increased
consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Reiss R(1), Johnston J, Tucker K, DeSesso JM, Keen CL.
Author information: 
(1)Exponent, 1800 Diagonal Road, Alexandria, VA 22314, United States.
The current paper provides an analysis of the potential number of cancer cases
that might be prevented if half the U.S. population increased its fruit and
vegetable consumption by one serving each per day. This number is contrasted with
an upper-bound estimate of concomitant cancer cases that might be theoretically
attributed to the intake of pesticide residues arising from the same additional
fruit and vegetable consumption. The cancer prevention estimates were derived
using a published meta-analysis of nutritional epidemiology studies. The cancer
risks were estimated using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methods,
cancer potency estimates from rodent bioassays, and pesticide residue sampling
data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The resulting estimates are 
that approximately 20,000 cancer cases per year could be prevented by increasing 
fruit and vegetable consumption, while up to 10 cancer cases per year could be
caused by the added pesticide consumption. These estimates have significant
uncertainties (e.g., potential residual confounding in the fruit and vegetable
epidemiologic studies and reliance on rodent bioassays for cancer risk). However,
the overwhelming difference between benefit and risk estimates provides
confidence that consumers should not be concerned about cancer risks from
consuming conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.055 
PMID: 22981907
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Dean, thank you for your responses. I will think about it.


How do you water your plants? I guess you have a dripping system? Is your dripping system underneath your fabric? How much water do you give to different types of plants? How do you simulate one inch of rain?

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No I don't have a sprinkler system these days. I have used soaker hoses in the past, but my garden isn't big enough for that. Plus I use watering as a time to check up on how my plants are doing. I only water a couple times per week, and only then if it hasn't rained (except for tomatoes, which need more frequent water).


On the rare occasion that I travel, I do have a solution though. I use this adjustable oscillating sprinkler hooked up to this simple garden hose timer to narrowly target both my main beds. They work together like a charm. You could also hook the timer up to a soaker hose if you prefer, to help conserve water, since you are in CA.



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My local community farm uses black plastic, but mostly for suppressing weeds. Dean, where do you plan to buy black plastic for the growing season next year?


It's fabric, not plastic. Where do you think I bought it? (hint: I rarely leave my neighborhood). Here is the weed suppressing fabric I purchased, along with the spikes to hold it down.



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Cognitive dissonance was nagging at me again.


Just to backup my earlier reference-less bashing of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists, and the organic food industry in general, here are a few summary quotes from [1], the full text of which is well worth reading. It investigates the health implications of varying levels of pesticides/herbicides in fruits and vegetables as a function of whether they are organic vs. conventional, imported vs. domestic, or on the EWG's "dirty dozen" vs. "clean fifteen" list:


It can be concluded pesticide residues are commonly detected on organic fruits and vegetables, although the incidence of detectable residues in organic produce is significantly lower than that in conventional produce. A diet emphasizing more organic fruits and vegetables should therefore lead to lower pesticide exposures, as has been demonstrated when children’s diets are altered to substitute organic foods for conventional ones and cause a significant drop in urinary pesticide metabolites. [ref] From a public health standpoint, it remains questionable as to the significance of such differences... [analysis deleted]
Thus, typical consumer exposure to pesticide residues is currently at very low levels relative to those required for health concern, and reducing consumer exposure further through consumption of more organic fruits and vegetables may not provide much of an additional incremental health benefit with respect to pesticide residues. Similar conclusions were drawn in a review paper by Magkos et al.[ref]...
The findings from this study dispel the notion that imported fruits and vegetables pose greater potential health risks to consumers than do domestic fruits and vegetables, even when the large differences among violation rates between imported and domestic fruits and vegetables are considered....


It was concluded that exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the Dirty Dozen list pose negligible risks to consumers and that the methodology used by the EWG to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks was not scientifically credible...



[1]  J Agric Food Chem. 2012 May 9;60(18):4425-9. doi: 10.1021/jf205131q. Epub 2012

Mar 12.
Pesticide residues in imported, organic, and "suspect" fruits and vegetables.
Winter CK(1).
Author information: 
(1)Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, One
Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616, United States. ckwinter@ucdavis.edu
Consumers are frequently urged to avoid imported foods as well as specific fruits
and vegetables due to health concerns from pesticide residues and are often
encouraged to choose organic fruits and vegetables rather than conventional
forms. Studies have demonstrated that while organic fruits and vegetables have
lower levels of pesticide residues than do conventional fruits and vegetables,
pesticide residues are still frequently detected on organic fruits and
vegetables; typical dietary consumer exposure to pesticide residues from
conventional fruits and vegetables does not appear to be of health significance. 
Similarly, research does not demonstrate that imported fruits and vegetables pose
greater risks from pesticide residues than do domestic fruits and vegetables or
that specific fruits and vegetables singled out as being the most highly
contaminated by pesticides should be avoided in their conventional forms.
PMID: 22335627
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  • 2 weeks later...

I know some disapprove of animal products as food, but for those who garden and especially those who desire to be self sufficient in food and not purchase the products of industrial ag, incorporating chickens into gardening practices can tremendously boost soil quality.  After harvesting a garden bed give the chickens access and they will clear it of weeds and pests and they will work the soil and till in compost.  Their manure is nitrogen rich and does wonders for composting.




Here is today's breakfast for the chickens.




Once we got fertile eggs from a friend for one of our broody hens to hatch.




Some of the chicks violated the city noise ordinance as they matured.  They became food for our dog, family and neighbors.  I ate a little myself.  Imagine the difference between the best home grown tomato versus a typical commercial tomato.  And multiply it by 10.  The best meat I had ever tasted.  I cried for our beautiful bird and the billions of abused animals many people think is food.





Apologies for being unable to figure out how to embed images inline and posting links instead.

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Commercial meat chickens are typically slaughtered at 6-8 weeks of age.   Many commercial hatcheries for egg laying breeds throw the unwanted day old males into a chipper.


We let all the chicks grow up.  Our males we raised from 6 to 10 months until their crowing became too much for our neighbors or they become problematically aggressive.  When a chicken needs to be euthanized, either because she develops health issues in old age or when younger males become unmanageable I invite them into my lap, give them treats and pet them until they become very quiet.  Then I pour some vinegar into a bottle with baking soda.  Chickens have a high respiration rate and CO2 knocks them out quickly.  When they are unconscious it is relatively easy to snap their necks and sever their spinal cords.


I know some vegans feed their cats and dogs vegan diets but cats and dogs want to eat some meat and can have health issues on vegan diets.  The meat I am most comfortable feeding to my dog is from the chickens I raise myself knowing they have been well cared for.  We also prepare and feed out the rabbits our dog catches, road kill deer and meat from other sources, but each has issues which in my opinion outweigh my personal discomfort with killing animals I care about.

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We let all the chicks grow up. Our males we raised from 6 to 10 months until their crowing became too much for our neighbors or they become problematically aggressive.  When a chicken needs to be euthanized, either because she develops health issues in old age or when younger males become unmanageable I invite them into my lap, give them treats and pet them until they become very quiet.  Then I pour some vinegar into a bottle with baking soda.  Chickens have a high respiration rate and CO2 knocks them out quickly.  When they are unconscious it is relatively easy to snap their necks and sever their spinal cords.


I strongly disagree with raising animals and then killing them in their youth for food, or simply because they were too noisy for your neighbors to tolerate. Your 6-10 month old roosters were (literally) "spring chickens" - as roosters can live 10-15 years. 


But having said that, I admire your integrity relative to other hypocritical meat eaters who would be mortified if they had to kill the animals themselves, had to watch it happen, or even had to think hard about just how cruelly their dinner had been treated prior to showing up on their plate.


It sounds like despite exploiting them and cutting their lives pitifully short, you treat your chickens with compassion and respect, which is a lot better than the way the vast majority of chickens in the world are treated.



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Dean, I suppose I would have grudging respect for the vegans who can slash and burn Indonesian jungle and plant their own oil palms or grow their own soy on land reclaimed from Amazon rain forest...


Even for a locally grown organic apple the odds are high that it was grown on land that at one time was great wild habitat and is now relatively sterilized with regular applications of poisons and concentrated fertilizers.  Of course they are organic pesticides and herbicides as opposed to the somewhat nastier conventional ones but still those organic poisons and the rest of the cultivation practices lead to land that produces a small amount of attractive food for humans but supports a fraction of the soil microbes, fungi and insects and other wildlife all the way up the food chain.


By adding chickens to our gardening we have been able to improve the quality and quantity of the foods we grow and do so in a way that is quite friendly to wild life with richer soil supporting more insects and birds, etc.  By producing more foods without using external inputs, either poisons or fertilizers I believe we are doing something positive for the health of ecosystems and reducing our dependence on industrial scale ag and the damages it causes.


Chickens have a tremendous capacity for reproduction.  They can reach sexual maturity by 4 to 6 months and raise 6-12 young every 3 or 4 months after that.  A single rooster can mate multiple times a day with a dozen hens and insure each of their eggs will be fertile.  If chickens on average achieved a significant fraction of their possible lifespans the entire biomass of the world would only be chickens in a very short period of time.


While many people who keep chickens will keep a rooster or two you will be hard pressed to find anyone who raises a significant percentage of males beyond the age of one year.  In the wild a flock has a dominant male and a bunch of hens and her offspring.  The rooster drives off the cockerels as they reach sexual maturity.  The rooster fearlessly protects his flock and can be suicidally aggressive towards threatening predators or other roosters competing for the flock.   The word "chicken" as denoting cowardice is about the hens and the young but it doesn't apply to mature males.  The domestication process of the breeds raised for food has somewhat reduced these traits compared to breeds raised for fighting which are much closer to their wild counterparts but still it is difficult to keep a low ratio of hens to roosters as the roosters will fight, injure and kill each other and will even injure the hens through overly frequent and aggressive mating.

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Congratulations on living what sounds like the healthy farm life there, Todd. Like you, I'd probably eat a chicken every now and then if I raised it, took care of it, then with respect and humility killed the animal, and prepared it myself. Something like a seasonal ceremony.


But I'm not sure eating chickens and chicken eggs consistently is a very healthy pursuit. Maybe I'm wrong. But the chickens you're fortunate enough to be in a position to raise, kill, prepare, and finally eat, digest and excrete are healthier than the god awful industry alternative the rest of us get. But are chickens and chicken eggs really providing you with much longterm longevity enhancing nutrition?


Evidence I've seen points overwhelmingly toward a mostly plant based whole food diet. But I'm sure eating a chicken or a few eggs every now and then is probably harmless (to you) and maybe even beneficial.


Finally, I'm not sure I understand your comments about vegans destroying Indonesian orangutan habitat for palm oil groves. Are you saying vegans are providing the market for palm oil? I won't touch the stuff myself, nor would most other vegans I know. We understand what's going on with the red palm oil biz. So are you saying vegans are owners of these plantations?

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Sthira, my priority is nerve and muscle function as opposed to optimizing for longevity.  Declining function is a significant threat to my longevity as well.  I wouldn't need to get much weaker before pneumonia becomes a major risk.  Unfortunately, I don't know with any certainty how to optimize for either function or longevity.  But my guess is that I don't want to come up short on any essential amino acids in my diet, even ones that people want to minimize for ultimate longevity.


The palm oil comment was just meant as an example that there is a lot more to consider in choosing foods than simply whether something is an animal product or not.  One can keep vegan and still make plenty of awful choices.  If one takes social issues into consideration in addition to environmental ones it becomes fairly challenging to find anything to eat as so many products are grown and harvested by workers who are treated horribly.  Industrial scale ag is expanding and there are so many issues beyond the environmental ones such as people being displaced from their lands.  Corporations do a lot of rotten things to supply us with cheap food at high profit margins.


Dean's comment that I'd be doing the chickens a favor by not eating their eggs strikes me as having huge potential for being ridiculously hypocritical.  Dean by his own admission eats a lot of food that he isn't growing himself and I'd be really surprised if the unknown issues surrounding all of that food aren't replete with things he would find far more reprehensible if he only knew...

Edited by Todd Allen
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Dean by his own admission eats a lot of food that he isn't growing himself and I'd be really surprised if the unknown issues surrounding all of that food aren't replete with things he would find far more reprehensible if he only knew...


Quite possibly. If you'll point them out to me, I'll consider and likely change my eating practices if by doing so I can help reduce suffering in the world, without dramatic cost to my own health. As Sthira said, I wouldn't touch palm oil with a 10-ft pole, both because it's unhealthy, but more importantly, because its cultivation is destroying the planet.


We all make our choices and live the the consequences, both personal and global. I agree again with Sthira, for most people and certainly for the planet, a plant-based diet is the way to go. You may be a special (and unfortunate) exception due to your condition. But I'm far from certain three eggs per day and an occasion chicken is the healthiest way to go, even for you. But hey, it sounds like you're eating them with at least a fair degree of concern for their welfare, which is far more than most people can say, even those who aren't in your predicament.



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