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.

 

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