The Organic Alternative

Published in Environment

Organic farming: possible? YES! worthwhile? YES! Mihovil Stipišić from Vrboska is proving the point.

Organic cultivation, Vrboska April 2017 Organic cultivation, Vrboska April 2017 Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Mihovil is a busy man. During the week he works in Split running his company, Strilam, an engineering and building projects firm, founded in 1993. He became interested in organic agriculture several years ago, being aware that chemical pesticides are bad for human health and the environment. He did systematic research and studies, and set about the challenge of farming his own fields organically, helped by his family. Although he is only on Hvar for a few days at a time, his efforts produce enough vegetables to feed his extended family (consisting of nine members), with much left over for friends or preserving. He is aware that the yields from organic farming can be variable, but with careful planning and crop rotation he has succeeded in minimizing losses.

Mihovil Stipišić with his vegetable plot, March 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Chemical pesticides are widely used on Hvar. Farmers and gardeners offer various excuses for this. Convenience tops the list. Most people are aware of the harm commercial poisons can cause, but few understand the extent of risks to human health and the environment.

Herbicides in an Ager vineyard, April 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Change is possible - and necessary. There are alternatives to chemicals for 'plant protection' and soil enrichment. From his researches, and, more importantly, his practical experience, Mihovil has set out the following guidelines to help other farmers and gardeners to cultivate healthy and health-giving plants.

MIHOVIL STIPIŠIĆ: PRACTICAL TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL ORGANIC PLANT CULTIVATION

1. Make your own compost. Farmyard manure will improve the quality of the soil, but it should not be used when it is fresh, nor on its own. It should be mixed with waste organic matter, such as vegetable peel. Pruned olive branches can be reduced in a crusher and mixed in - this is better than burning them and causing pollution. The mixed compost material should be left to stand for at least six months.

Planned for planting. Photo: Mihovil Stipišić

2. Prepare the soil. Rotavating should be kept to a minimum, as it destroys the living organisms in the soil. It is better to use a plough where possible, or to dig out smaller areas with a mattock. Once prepared, the soil should be covered with durable agricultural foil, with holes for planting. The current cost of agricultural foil is about 900 kunas per 100 m2.

Besides using your compost, another way of enriching the soil is to plant as many fava beans as possible during the winter months. The stalks should not be pulled up. Leave the roots in to provide nitrogen for the soil.

3. Drip-feed watering. If you have a water connexion on your land, you can set up a drip-feed watering system. If the water pressure is excessive, you can control it through a reducer tap. (Note, if you want to qualify for organic certification, you cannot use the mains water supply for your irrigation.)

Programmer for watering system. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

With modern drip-feed watering systems, you can set up hoses all round a given area, and control it through a pre-set timer programme. You can even check and change the timer remotely in some systems. Different areas can be isolated with separate taps, as not all plants need the same amount of watering during the same period. The best time for watering is during the night, for instance between 1 and 2 am, perhaps every second day. The plants which most need watering are the tomatoes, courgettes and others planted in mid-April, and the hoses should be arranged under the protective foil. As there is no evaporation, you make great savings on water usage, which can cover the cost of the automatic timer within a couple of years. The current cost of an automatic timer is in the region of 500 kunas.

4. Sowing your seeds.

* Try harvesting your own seeds if possible, preferably using autochthonous types.

* In my experience, on Hvar Island everything needs planting earlier than on the mainland.

* Sow fava beans at the end of November, rather than in February, as they are much more resistant in winter.

* Potatoes should be planted at the end of February. If you plant them later, they will over-heat and 'cook' as the earth heats up.

* Sow garden peas at the end of February, and water them, preferably using the drip feed system, in their last month.

* The same goes for chickpeas: sow at the end of February, and water, preferably with the drip feed system, for the last month.

* Green beans should be sown at the beginning of April, when they are at their strongest. They should be watered with a drip feed system.

* In mid-April you can plant tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, paprikas (peppers) and aubergines (egg-plants). Use durable agricultural foil and plant them in holes in the foil. Water using a drip feed system, and cover your plot with netting to keep birds off the plants.

* Brassicas should be planted at the end of August, and watered, preferably using the drip-feed system.

Foil for plant protection. Photo: Mihovil Stipišić

5. Plant protection. You  can protect plants from fungal infections or insect damage using herbal preparations. They can be be used preventively, or at the first sign of problems. As they are not chemical poisons, it is perfectly safe to eat the fruits or vegetables after treatment.

Field horsetail (equisetum arvense) concoction. This is a very powerful antidote to fungal diseases. The horsetail should be picked towards the end of the summer, at the end of August, when it contains its highest amount of silica, and dried in a shaded environment. The dried horsetail can be used as a fungicide throughout the year.

The concoction is prepared by heating 300 grams of dried horsetail in 5 litres of water for an hour over a low heat. Then you strain it to remove the solids, and dilute the liquid with a further 25 litres of water, stirring the mixture constantly for 10 minutes. The liquid must be allowed to stand for 10 hours before use.

Fruit trees should be sprayed on a sunny day after rainfall, either preventively, or at the first sign of fungal disease. When used preventively, one can follow the instructions in a monthly crop calendar.

You can also use the horsetail concoction from a watering can, or create a horsetail 'bath' to soak the roots before planting fruit trees. As a spray, the horsetail concoction can be used on any part of the trees, including the crown, trunk and fruits. It provides exceptionally effective resistance, as well as cure, for fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, and rust fungus. Experienced farmers say they cannot have too much horsetail! I spray my vines and vegetables with it. The mixture of 30 litres, as described above, is enough for 400 vines and the vegetable garden covering an area of 400 m2.

Planting lines, protected by foil, with supports ready for the net covering to protect frombirds, April 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) concoction. Yarrow is one of the medicinal herbs used in folk medicine, as it contains bitter-sweet etheic oil and many minerals. It also has disinfectant properties. It enhances the action of other mixtures, therefore it can be mixed with them for greater efficacity, especially with mint and camomile. In organic agriculture it is used against powdery mildew, fruit rot and other fungal diseases.

The yarrow concoction is prepared from 1 kg of leaves and stalks (15cm long), or 200 g of dried yarrow cooked in 10 litres of water. This is then strained to remove the solids, and the liquid is diluted in a ratio of 5:1. It is good as a preventive spray, or at the first signs of illness. For the best effectiveness, make a mint or camomile concoction and mix it with the yarrow in the same dilution of 5:1.

I use this concoction on my vines and fruit trees.

Caution: some fruit trees may show allergy to yarrow in the form of a 'rash', so try out the concoction first on one part of each tree, and avoid using it if there is a reaction.

Early stages of growth through the foil, April 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Nettle (urtica dioica) spray. This is used as an insecticide to eliminate aphids. At the same time, the nettle spray strengthens the plants, fertilizes them and increases their resistance against damage.

To prepare the spray, soak 1 kg of finely chopped nettles in 10 litres of water for 24 hours - no longer than that, or the preparation will lose its strength. If you do not have fresh nettles, you need 100 to 300g of dried nettles. Strain the mixture and use the liquid to spray the plants from all sides. The nettle residue can be composted. (The quantity of the spray and its dilution ratio can be altered to suit individual needs.)

Important: the nettle spray must be used immediately, never more than 2 to 3 days after it has been made, otherwise it can cause severe burn damage to your plants.

The nettle spraying can be repeated after a few days, using a fresh preparation.

I use this concoction most often on my vegetables, more rarely on the vines.

Wormwood (artemisia absinthium) concoction. This is very bitter, so insects avoid it, which makes it a very effective insecticide. To prepare the concoction, put 300g of dried chopped wormwood twigs (which can include leaves and even flowers) into 1 litre of boiling water and leave immersed for half and hour. Strain the liquid to remove the solids, add 9 litres of water and the spray is ready for use. The wormwood concoction is used to protect strawberries and blackberries from mites. It protects all fruit trees from aphids, caterpillars, ants and other harmful insects.

Caution: the wormwood residue must not be composted.

NOTE In Split, the dried plants used for these preparations can be obtained from kiosks in the market behind the old Hajduk football ground.

The approximate price for each of these organic materials is 75 kunas per kilogram.

 

You are here: Home environment articles The Organic Alternative

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Government plan to educate owners and encourage fines not enough to effectively tackle air pollution

    Study links air pollution to mental ill-health

    Politicians and campaigners have called for an urgent review of wood-burning stoves, which cause large amounts of pollution in urban areas.

    The calls follow the admission by the environment secretary that the government had set weaker air pollution targets than it would like. The admission came as she announced a new environmental plan for England that held back from banning wood-burning stoves and settled instead for “educating” people on their use.

    Continue reading...

  • Co-author of paper says results have implications for anyone who has to think hard in polluted areas

    Chess experts make more mistakes when air pollution is high, a study has found.

    Experts used computer models to analyse the quality of games played and found that with a modest increase in fine particulate matter, the probability that chess players would make an error increased by 2.1 percentage points, and the magnitude of those errors increased by 10.8%.

    Continue reading...

  • National Trust project shows family home of ‘nature’s engineers’ and how they have improved the environment for other wildlife

    They can be seen chugging around their watery domain like small furry tugboats, gnawing away at saplings or nuzzling up to each other. The sound of babbling water and birdsong provides a pleasing soundtrack.

    A new online tour was launched on Thursday of an enclosure on the Holnicote estate in Somerset that is home to a family of five beavers. In what is billed as the first of its kind, the tour allows viewers to navigate through the 2.7-acre Exmoor enclosure where two adult beavers and their three offspring live and work.

    Continue reading...

  • Retailer and green groups warn of ‘high environmental cost’ of fish aggregating devices to tuna stocks and other endangered marine life

    The EU is under pressure to significantly restrict its huge fleet of fishing vessels from using “fish aggregating devices” that make it easier to catch huge numbers of fish and contribute further to overfishing.

    A letter signed by Marks & Spencer and more than 100 environmental groups, including the International Pole and Line Foundation, warns EU officials that the devices (FADs) are one of the main contributors to overfishing of yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean, because they catch high numbers of juveniles.

    Continue reading...

  • The energy industry is turning waste from dairy farms into renewable natural gas – but will it actually reduce emissions?

    On an early August afternoon at Pinnacle Dairy, a farm located near the middle of California’s long Central Valley, 1,300 Jersey cows idle in the shade of open-air barns. Above them whir fans the size of satellites, circulating a breeze as the temperature pushes 100F (38C). Underfoot, a wet layer of feces emits a thick stench that hangs in the air. Just a tad unpleasant, the smell represents a potential goldmine.

    The energy industry is transforming mounds of manure into a lucrative “carbon negative fuel” capable of powering everything from municipal buses to cargo trucks. To do so, it’s turning to dairy farms, which offer a reliable, long-term supply of the material. Pinnacle is just one of hundreds across the state that have recently sold the rights to their manure to energy producers.

    Continue reading...

  • Researchers find long-term exposure to even relatively low levels raises risk of depression and anxiety

    Long-term exposure to even comparatively low levels of air pollution could cause depression and anxiety, according to a study exploring the links between air quality and mental ill-health.

    Tracking the incidence of depression and anxiety in almost 500,000 UK adults over 11 years, researchers found that those living in areas with higher pollution were more likely to suffer episodes, even when air quality was within official limits.

    Continue reading...

  • Government accepts Liberal Democrat amendment to UK infrastructure bank bill

    Taxpayer money may no longer be invested in water companies that fail to produce adequate plans to stop sewage discharges, after the government accepted a Liberal Democrat amendment.

    The change to the UK infrastructure bank bill means that once it becomes law, tax receipts will only be able to fund water companies if they produce a costed and timed plan for ending sewage spills into waterways.

    Continue reading...

  • Council election could have national implications if Greens snatch ward from Lib Dems

    The issues that have been raised on the doorstep during the campaign have tended to be local ones – from concerns over new housing developments to the state of the pavements and plans to increase fees paid by people who live on boats in the harbour.

    But a council byelection taking place at Bristol city council on Thursday may have national implications should the Green party manage to pinch the ward from the Lib Dems.

    Continue reading...

  • Study suggests tool could be used to reduce energy needs for heating and cooling office buildings

    Every year we shift our clocks forward in the spring, and backwards in the autumn. Originally daylight saving was introduced to save energy; reducing the number of hours that the lights had to be on in office buildings. But as climate changes, can daylight saving be used to reduce the energy demand for heating and cooling our office spaces?

    To answer this question researchers simulated the heating and cooling demands of office buildings for 15 different cities across the United States and analysed the impact that daylight saving could have until the year 2050 under different climate scenarios. Under current climate conditions daylight saving reduced cooling demand by up to 5.9%, but increased heating demand by 4.4%. As we head into a warmer future they found that daylight saving could reduce cooling demand by up to 5.4%, while increasing heating demand by 3.2%. In both cases daylight saving results in a net decrease in energy used.

    Continue reading...

  • Bossington, Somerset: Whether by human or nature’s hand, the riparian landscape here is being reshaped

    The January storms that boomed over Exmoor shed so much rain that the River Barle washed away a section of the ancient stone clapper bridge at Tarr Steps. And at Bossington Beach near Porlock, the combined forces of the usually mild Horner Water and River Aller blasted through the pebble bank, carving a deep, curving route roaring red-brown into the sea.

    It will be weeks until the huge rock slabs at Tarr Steps are recovered and replaced, but the breach at Bossington is already rapidly repairing itself as the tides re-sweep the shingle. Breaks such as this often occur because the beach is changing shape – it is being gradually thinned and lengthened by the sea’s swash and drift.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds