MOSES in Wisconsin

Here are some lessons we picked up at the MOSES conference in Wisconsin – MOSES stands for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. It’s the biggie in sustainable ag conferences in the Midwest.

Conference take-aways:

Mark Shepherd
Mark Shepherd, left, consults with Paul about Draco Hill drainage issues.

Key line water management

Paul met with Mark Shepherd, author of Restoration Agriculture, a book fellow-PFI member Grant Schultz turned us on to. Mark has opened our eyes to a larger picture of water management on Draco Hill, one that will help us slow erosion while providing water to places we need it. It involves digging holes to form “pocket ponds” at key points in the grade of a hill or ravine to capture water and slow it down, then eventually connecting those holes with trenches and moving the water slowly downhill to the places we need it. Looks like that’ll be a big project this summer for us. But now it’s got Paul talking about getting highland cattle and guinea hogs for the place…Longer story than I’m willing to tell here!

Eric Mader answering questions at the end of his talk.
Eric Mader answering questions at the end of his talk.

Something’s bugging my vegies

I found a lot of useful information in a workshop by Eric Mader, from the Xerces Society, who talked about how best to draw beneficial insects to your food production. We’ve got 15 acres of prairie planted all around our gardens, but I’m still ready to plant a line of herbs down the side of our raised beds to draw some of the good bugs he was talking about who’ll pray on the bad ones. But I do wish he hadn’t been quite so flip about telling farmers to plant tansy, clovers and vetch! Farmers have a way of doing things on a pretty grand scale, and for those of us dealing with “aggressive” plants post-farming, tansy and vetch are not always good news.

Recommended natives to run as buffers alongside agriculture:

  • Dotted mint
  • Mountain mint
  • Milkweed
  • Goldenrod
  • Little Bluestem
  • Partridge pea

also these annuals…dill, cilantro, coreopsis or bachelor button

Other cool details:

  • In a review of 24 studies landscape complexity and diversity increased beneficial insects in 74 percent of the cases. Eric said many of the remaining 26 percent were more an issue of the quality of the studies.
  • Stink bugs – flowering cover crops such as buckwheat, tansy, annual clovers or vetch multiplied the parasitism (parasites colonizing then destroying) of stink bug eggs by 2.5 times.
  • Also, to keep from harming beneficial insects he warned against organic pesticides such as spinosad, pyrethrins and beauvera bassiana. He said insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils were fine.

Safer pest management included:

  • Bt
  • repellants like garlic or citrus oils (if you find they work)
  • pheromone traps
  • mating disruptors

He said to combine this with these for optimum protection:

  • Floating row covers
  • trap crops
  • resistant varieties
  • sanitation
  • bagging (as in apples or pears in a small orchard)
  • reducing tillage and use of plastic mulches
The exhibition hall.
The exhibition hall.

Tea anyone?

We learned more about this fascinating stuff, which is essentially high quality compost in a vat of water with air percolated through it helping increase the microbial life. Then we’re to spray this stuff on our garden (foliar) or pour it into the soil (root drench). Unlike Elaine Ingram at Rodale, these folks were focused on disease prevention research. They didn’t see much difference between aerated and non-aerated teas for this purpose, but did prove that in many cases vermiculture compost (worm poop, which we “grow” here) is better than plant or manure compost, sometimes better than chemicals, always better than nothing. It’s a start.

Drip tape and drought

We learned more about how to set up drip tape which we plan to purchase from Beautiful Lands Products though they generally only sell to real farmers. Since we’re local, they are kind enough to sell to us. Great stuff, should save us a lot of water if we must use it during another drought and it’s a better system for getting even mounts of water to all the plants every time. Last year our soaker hoses were all over the place in terms of watering rates. Some plants drowned and some died of thirst along the same line of hoses.

A Future with the FFA

This workshop included a panel of FFA instructors and students talking about the organization’s goals and structure, and describing a real lack of information about organics. We need organic farmers in Cedar County to offer to speak to these groups in West Branch, Tipton and North Cedar so kids can be exposed to the possibility. We need funding for grants for their supervised projects so they can be encouraged to practice organic methods. We’re willing to step up, but we’re no pros. Who’s out there who can help? Email me and let’s talk.

A great weekend to learn

And of course the best part of any conference like this is the networking. We met beginning farmers and veteran farmers from all over the Midwest, learned more about an important organization called Women in Food and Agriculture Network and traveled with great folks from Scattergood School, picking their brains along the way for ideas and bouncing ideas from the conference off of them.


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