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Plants Can Grow Without Dirt?

4-27-17 hydroponic

What comes to mind when you picture a farmer? Animals, tractors, and fields full of dirt (and later crops). Farmers are synonymously linked with the land. However, a growing method in urban agriculture is hydroponics, a method that doesn’t use soil to cultivate plants.

What exactly is hydroponic growing? It means growing without using soil. This method uses water and nutrient solutions to fertilize plants. Plants grown hydroponically are able to get more oxygen directly into their roots (since they aren’t buried underground), which means the roots are able to take up nourishment from the growth solution easier.

Hydroponic growing is great for hobby gardeners, but is also picking up popularity among the Urban Ag movement. People are picking up on this trend because it is something that can be done year round in any climate. Growing can occur in a controlled environment, where weather is never a factor. Plants can be situated closer to one another, saving space, because the roots don’t need to spread out. They are not searching for water or nutrients, everything is provided within reach. Depending on the technique used, hydroponics can be stacked on top of one another. A wall can be turned into a vertical garden with relatively little space taken up in a room.

There are some negatives to hydroponics as well. There are a variety of ways to water plants, either through a timed system or using pumps. Most advanced growing methods use mechanics of some sort, which means maintenance and the potential for a timer or pump to have an issue and fail. Since plants are so close together, it is important to thoroughly clean the channels or containers they are in regularly to prevent pest or disease issues.

With hydroponics, there are two main types of growing techniques. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) has the roots of the plant directly in water with no medium for support. The other technique is to cultivate the plants in a medium. Some mediums commonly used are rock wool, peat moss, and oasis cubes. However, anything a plant could technically grow in is called a growing medium, so some people use rocks, coconut fibers, and sand. These mediums help to steady the plant, but offer no fertilization or nutrients themselves. As long as soil is not used, growing with these mediums is still classified as hydroponic.

 

Sources:

 Kuack, David. “Getting Serious About Hydroponic Vegetable Production.” Urban Ag News

“Hydroponic Gardens.” Homegrown Hydroponics

“What is Hydroponic Growing?” Growth Technology

What do You WEAN I Have to Develop my Rumen?

4-20-17 wean

Calves are very sensitive creatures. A small amount of change is enough to stress them out, and stressed calves can have health and growth issues. One of the more stressful points in a calf’s life is when they are weaned.

The time calves are weaned can vary greatly. On average, 6-8 weeks is the typical age for weaning. But the process can start up to 4 weeks according to some studies. Some people prefer to wean calves earlier because it helps to save costs with both labor and feeding, while not affecting the growth and development of the animal.

Whatever timeline you feel is best for your operation, the most important thing is to be organized and to pay close attention to the calves. The most important part of weaning a calf is to make sure their rumen is healthy and well developed before they fully wean. This process starts by having the calves feed on milk replacers and that amount will lessen when they begin a starter. Starters will help begin the fermenting process in the calf’s rumen. This allows the bacteria needed to produce their energy to grow. Having a developed rumen will ensure that calves can eat and process food on their own with no issues.

In addition to developing the rumen, calves need to have access to water at all times. The rule of thumb is for a calf to have 4 lbs. of water for every 1 lb. of starter they consume. The water mixes with the starter and creates the perfect environment for the bacteria needed to develop the rumen quickly.

No matter your method and timing of weaning, the most important aspect is to make sure the calves are getting the proper nutrients and resources needed to develop their rumen. Then they will be able to eat and process food on their own to continuing growing successfully.

 Sources:

Alderton, Sarah. “Weaning: Get it Right to Avoid Calf Disruption.” Farmers Weekly

“Early Weaning Strategies.”  PennState Extension

Kertz, A.F., “Don’t Drop the Ball When You Wean Calves.” Hoard’s Dairyman

Waste Not, Want Not, and Get Electricity

4-13-17 waste

America wastes 30% of our food. That is an insane amount when you think about it. Go to the grocery store, purchase your shopping list, and then go home and immediately throw 1/3 of it away. You wouldn’t, would you? Yet, this is what ends up happening all around our country.

The goal, first and foremost, should be to not waste food in the first place. However, restaurants and grocery stores have rules and laws they need to follow about how long to keep things available to consumers. We as consumers should think smarter and buy food more frequently in smaller quantities to keep our cupboards and fridges stocked. This way, food stays fresher longer, and there is less chance of waste.

Waste is going to happen no matter what. Composting and recycling are a great start of something to do at home to help the environment. However, on a larger scale, say a football stadium or a small town, what can they do with food waste?

The technology is now available to take food waste and turn it into electricity. While it can’t stop us from wasting food, it can turn the waste into something positive that can provide clean energy. By creating this renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, as well as soot and sulfur dioxide emissions from diesel fuel or other harmful pollutants in fossil fuels.

The most popular method of disposing of food waste is by using an anaerobic digester. This is a machine that takes food waste, farm-by products, and manure and mixes it together without the presence of oxygen. The microorganisms in the organic material break everything down. This process creates methane gas, which is then collected and can be turned into energy to produce heat or to power electric generators. In addition to creating energy, the digester separates the solids from the liquids to create nutrient rich natural fertilizer.

This method is popular on farms, mainly because of the need for an organic material like manure to help the process. The end product of nutrient rich soil can also be used in the fields to help fertilize crops. It makes sense for this movement to be starting throughout the farming industry, considering a staple of farm ownership is using your resources as much as possible for as long as you can. The recycling of food waste and manure into something that is very appealing. Several farms around the country are implementing this technique already with great success. One of them, located in MA, processes 14,000 tons of food waste annually.

Sources:

Hardie, Laura. “Food Waste Gets Second Life as Renewable Energy on Vermont Dairy Farm.” UVM

Ragalie-Carr, Jean. “From Food Waste to Energy: It’s Here!” DairyGood

“Recovering Value from Waste.” AgStar