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, foil-covered, with supports ready for the bird-proof net covering, 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 At the time of writing, the dried plants used for these preparations were obtainablke in Split from kiosks in the market behind the old Hajduk football ground. The approximate price for each of these organic materials was 75 kunas per kilogram.

© Mihovil Stipiši 2017
Translated by Vivian Grisogono
 
You are here: Home environment articles The Organic Alternative

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Senior climate figures welcome move after Conservative government largely left the role to junior ministers

    Ed Miliband is to take personal control of the UK’s negotiations at vital international climate talks, in stark contrast to his Tory predecessors.

    The energy security and net zero secretary will attend Cop29, this year’s UN climate summit, in Azerbaijan this November to head the UK’s delegation and meet political leaders from around the world.

    Continue reading...

  • Electric vehicles are ‘batteries on wheels’ that can put energy back into the National Grid when solar panels and windfarms do not provide much power

    Electric cars make some people afraid of the dark. While the batteries produce much less carbon, they require much more electricity to run. This has prompted ominous warnings that Great Britain and other wealthy countries set on banning new petrol and diesel cars risk plunging their populations into darkness.

    In recent months British net zero-sceptical newspapers have warned that the shift to EVs would “risk overwhelming the grid, and threaten catastrophic blackouts” when intermittent sun and wind fail to provide the necessary power. Another article claimed: “It won’t take an enemy power to put us all in the dark – just energy customers doing normal things on a normal winter’s evening.”

    Continue reading...

  • Site in Pembrokeshire currently grazed by sheep will be planted with a range of species and reconnect to Celtic past

    A lost piece of Celtic rainforest in the far south-west of Wales is to be restored to its ancient glory, weaving around standing stones and an abandoned, tumbling-down farmhouse with a waterwheel.

    The 59-hectare (146-acre) site in Pembrokeshire will be planted with species such as oak, small-leaf lime and wild service (Sorbus torminalis) and should support an abundance of mosses, liverworts, lichens and ferns as well as providing a home for animals and other plant life.

    Continue reading...

  • Tess, a 40-year-old female at Houston zoo, has been given a trial mRNA vaccine to help combat the virus, a leading killer of calves in captivity

    An Asian elephant at Houston zoo in the US has received the first mRNA vaccine against herpes, which is the leading killer of Asian elephants calves in captivity.

    Tess, a 40-year-old Asian elephant, was injected with the trial vaccine at the Texas zoo in June, after a spate of deaths in juveniles in zoos around the world from the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV).

    Continue reading...

  • Ravenscraig, North Lanarkshire: A place once of coke ovens and cooling towers is now enlivened with orchids and stonecrop, and swards of grasses

    I’m walking through Ravenscraig, once the site of the largest steelworks in Europe, which was closed and demolished more than 30 years ago. While there has been some redevelopment on its fringes, the bulk of the site has been left. The skylarks that soar upwards to become nothing but song will look down on the circles where once were cooling towers and gas towers, the rectangular templates of the buildings, strip mills and coke ovens, and roads leading to them, edges now softened and fringed with birch and willow.

    From a distance, the oxeye daisies intermingling with the lush grasses look like a smattering of snow; close up, thick swards of grass are peppered with St John’s wort, yellow rattle, tufted and yellow vetch, and red clover – little pings of colour amid the subtle pinks, purples and greens of the grasses.

    Continue reading...

  • Ed Miliband sets new rules on solar panels and approves three giant solar farms as Labour seeks to end years of Tory inaction

    Keir Starmer’s Labour government unveils plans for a “rooftop revolution” today that will see millions more homes fitted with solar panels in order to bring down domestic energy bills and tackle the climate crisis.

    The energy secretary, Ed Miliband, also took the hugely controversial decision this weekend to approve three massive solar farms in the east of England that had been blocked by Tory ministers.

    Continue reading...

  • It’s not entirely clear if fox numbers are on the rise in urban areas, but research shows they are learning to avoid hazards such as dogs and poisonous baits

    Alex Abbey’s security camera captured something moving through an alley behind his home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs a few weeks ago. When he watched the 2am footage the next day, he was surprised to see a red fox on the screen.

    “It’s unusual. It’s the first time I have seen one in Potts Point,” he says.

    Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

    Continue reading...

  • Initiative aims to coax visitors and local people into air-conditioned venues during sweltering summer afternoons

    A little after 3pm on a weekday afternoon, the footsteps and voices that echoed along the hallowed halls of the Prado were silenced by a series of percussive detonations that could have been mistaken for an indoor fireworks display.

    The source of the disruption, however, was not a vandal or a protester. Watched over by the eight muses for whom the Madrid museum’s Sala de las Musas is named, a tall, famous and angular flamenco dancer called El Yiyo was clicking, clapping, stomping and pirouetting before a rapt, grateful and slightly bemused audience. A few feet away sat the renowned guitarist Rafael Andújar, who had ambled into the sala a few moments earlier, taken his seat and begun to fill the air with notes.

    Continue reading...

  • A British geneticist scoured the globe for diverse grains in the 1920s. His research could be vital as the climate changes

    A hundred years ago, the plant scientist Arthur Watkins launched a remarkable project. He began collecting samples of wheat from all over the globe, nagging consuls and business agents across the British empire and beyond to supply him with grain from local markets.

    His persistence was exceptional and, a century later, it is about to reap dramatic results. A UK-Chinese collaboration has sequenced the DNA of all the 827 kinds of wheat, assembled by Watkins, that have been nurtured at the John Innes Centre near Norwich for most of the past century.

    Continue reading...

  • Such schemes have their critics but the technology, which has been known for a century, could help many nations reach net zero

    Snowy Hydro’s beleaguered tunnel boring machine, Florence, seems to be regularly stuck between soft rock and a hard place.

    But that has not deterred enthusiasts for pumped hydro as a key part of Australia’s transition off fossil fuels.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

  • The government of Indonesia announced this week a deal to redirect more than US$ 35 million it owes to the United States into the conservation of coral reefs.

  • In the semi-arid shrubland of Namaqualand, dry conditions have long been a cycle of life. But climate change is now slowly transforming this once-thriving biodiversity hotspot, making life challenging for wildlife and the shepherds who have farmed here for centuries.

  • Half the world’s population lives in areas with exposure to dengue fever. Parts of the United States may soon join them.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to doctors last week about an increased risk of dengue, a mosquito-borne virus most prevalent in tropical climates. Countries in the Americas have already reported more than 9.7 million cases this year — twice as many as were reported in the region all last year — raising alarm bells about the prospect for spread in the southern continental United States and increased transmission in places like Puerto Rico.

    This notice from the CDC comes in the wake of a recent heat wave that smothered much of the eastern United States. The timing offers a foreboding glimpse of a future in which climatic change enables diseases to spread into new environments.

    “We're seeing a lot of spread of mosquito-borne viruses, such as dengue, associated with climate change, so none of this is surprising,” said Neil Vora, an epidemiologist and physician at Conservation International. “We are creating the climatic conditions for these things to happen.”

    But how, exactly, are the two related?

    On a warming planet, disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks can thrive in new environments, and disease transmission seasons may become longer as conditions change. The impact could be profound: A 2019 study, referencing warming based on modeling from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, projected an additional 2 billion people would face risk of dengue exposure by 2080.

    And it won’t just be dengue.

    “The thing is, these viruses are going to surprise us time and time again,” Vora said. “Dengue is scary. But what else is out there?”

    Last year, for example, Florida and Texas discovered eight cases of locally acquired malaria, the first such cases in the United States in two decades, leaving physicians perplexed. In parts of South America, including Brazil, scientists are worried about the spread of Oropouche virus, which had been restricted largely to low-population areas in the Amazon.

    Preventing these outbreaks — dengue, Zika, malaria or others — will hinge on reversing climate change. Vora says public health is focused on response rather than prevention, and he delivered a TED Talk last year about how reducing deforestation can help fend off future pandemics.

    “Prevention is about going upstream and addressing climate change itself,” Vora said. “We need to walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, we have to invest in both prevention of diseases, such as through mitigating climate change through nature-based solutions and phasing out fossil fuels — while, at the same time, investing in response capabilities. The stakes are too high to keep implementing incomplete solutions.

    “The beauty of investing in nature for prevention of disease is that it is inherently equitable. Everyone benefits everywhere, particularly people in the most resource-limited settings. And these measures are agnostic to the pathogen. When you mitigate climate change, threats downstream get mitigated, too.”


    Further reading:


    Max Marcovitch is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Also, please consider supporting our critical work

  • Human and elephant conflict is on the rise, largely because of elephants' diminishing habitat. Experts say that protecting the species requires understanding and supporting rural communities that share spaces with them.

  • Africa’s pastoralists have long raised their livestock to mimic the rhythms of nature. Reviving their way of life is key to restoring grasslands.

  • Nearly a third of fishing lines are lost or discarded at sea. This so-called “ghost gear” — along with nets and traps — is deadly for marine animals. One man is on a mission to clean it up, net by net.

  • Brutal heat waves swept across the Southern Hemisphere earlier this year. Now it’s the Northern Hemisphere’s turn. Yet humanity continues to actively destroy one of its best allies against the heat: forests.

  • In eastern California, a Great Basin bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has long been considered Earth’s oldest living thing. But in Chile, a new challenger has emerged that could be 500 years older than the reigning champ.

  • A landmark treaty to protect the world’s oceans could go into effect soon — but experts argue it must consider climate change if it is going to succeed.

  • The ocean feeds us, regulates our climate and sustains economies. Yet numerous threats are devastating the health of marine ecosystems. In honor of World Oceans Day, we take a dive into efforts that are charting anew course for our oceans.