With a return to more natural and sustainable lifestyles, organic food, which is both healthy and beneficial to the environment, is becoming more prominent around the world. On today’s program we will visit an organic farm in Austria.
It uses no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or animal-based fertilizers. And yet, this farm reaps a plentiful harvest year round. Let’s meet Helmut to find out how this is achieved.
Mr. Helmut=male H(m): Hi, I’m Helmut from Austria. I am an organic farmer and today I would like to show you a little bit around on my farm.
H(m): The size of the farm is 1.7 hectares. But we only use around four thousand square meters of this land. We have around 30 different varieties of vegetables.
And we have more than 100 families, they get vegetables boxes from this farm, every two weeks. On average, per month we deliver 150 boxes. On this small bit of land, there are around 20,000 plants growing all year.
We have enough snow and rain here, but most of the moisture is in winter. So in summer sometimes it’s very dry and sometimes we have periods of six weeks without rain. So I found some solution for this dry time. I put a lot of straw and grass cuts on the ground, and this really works very well. I will show you this later.
At the end of the season, we cover the whole vegetable garden or vegetable land with straw. So that the soil does not freeze in winter. That means that all the micro-organism stay active all year.
It is not necessary to use any manure from cows or pigs or whatever, or some chemical fertilizer. What the micro-organisms produce naturally is totally enough to plant vegetables. The only thing is that these beings, they need also food, and we give this by straw or grass cuttings.
H(m): There is a group of plants where the straw method works very well. In spring when we clean the whole field from the straw, we put the straw on one third of the field, altogether, and here we plant these different plants. They are the zucchinis, the squash, physalis and inside the greenhouses, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. It is very easy. The only thing what we need is to have big plants, so that they are not covered by the straw. And we put the straw on the surface,
H(m): and make little holes and put the plants in. Of course this method does not work with carrots, parsley roots, celery, onions, leeks or cabbage. Here we have to use another method. We have to hoe it a few times, which is not very difficult, and then finally we bring in grass cuttings between the plants. The effect of the straw is of course very good; even when it’s very dry in the summer it stays wet underneath. This we can see here. When you move this, it’s really completely wet underneath, and this is very good soil.
And of course all this moisture also goes to the plant. And this moisture never disappears. I think this method is also very good for Mediterranean or semi-desert areas. You can keep a lot of moisture in the ground, even when it rains only once a year or once every second year.
H(m): You can see it’s really wet. It’s like if I would have watered it before. But this is just the normal moisture from the ground. The moisture comes always up and if you cover it a little bit, then it cannot disappear. So now let’s go into the greenhouse and I can show you a bit where no water has been used for three years, and it’s still moist inside.
H(m): Here in the greenhouse we have some dripping water system for the plants, because otherwise they would not survive. But in between the rows we have straw to keep it wet. And on this part, for years there was no water. But I can show you now, if I dig down there, it’s totally dry here on top but when you come down, you can see the soil is completely black and it looks moist.
H(m): You can see the grass is now in this box. And here are the beans. And it’s just like this, that I put the grass in between the rows. It’s important to put not too much into the row so that it doesn’t get wet or fungus. This is enough. The soil is covered and the water cannot disappear anymore. Of course, after a while it might be necessary to go through and hoe the weeds a little bit. After ten, fifteen days, you can hardly see anything from this grass anymore, because all these animals that live in the ground, they have already put it down and they had an excellent meal.
So here you can see the third generation of green beans. They will be ripe in late September. What you can see here, I was hoeing these three rows just half an hour, or an hour before, and you can see the soil is already white.
Here, where I didn’t hoe, you can see that the soil is dark. That means that the water or the moisture is coming out from the ground, and is disappearing into the atmosphere. Here, it is similar to having mulch. The capillary system of the soil is interrupted, so that the water and the moisture cannot go into the atmosphere.
The way of hoeing is quite easy, because it’s not a big effort. I will show you now. It’s just like working with a broom. You go just on the surface, and it’s very easy. Don’t put any effort in this. Just cut the wild herbs what is above the soil, from the root. And that’s it. And in half an hour, or one hour, this will be also dry, and no moisture will come up. Of course later we will put also grass cuttings into these rows.
H(m): If you have a little bit of experience and practice, you can make 100 square meters in one hour. For a family, when you calculate the vegetables for a family of four or five persons, 300 square meters of garden is enough. Of course, it depends on which area you are in.So you can easily produce, with an effort of between half an hour and 1 hour per day, all the vegetables you need for your family.
H(m): Now I will show you how we produce the little plants. We have two types of these sheets. One has 77 holes and the other one has 45 holes. The smaller holes are for all the salads, brassicas and smaller plants like fennel. And this is for zucchinis, squash, peppers and tomatoes.
H(m): So then I press it a little bit with my fingers.
H(m): So now I cover it again.
H(m): So that’s all. And now I make little holes with my finger also.
H(m): Now we put the seeds in one by one.
SupremeMasterTV(m): What seed is this?
H(m): This is a late salad, which is a little bit frost resistant and can be harvested until December if the winter is not too cold.
H(m): So now we cover it a little bit, press it a little bit and that’s it. Finally we put a little bit of water on top. And in between three or four days we should see already something. Okay, and here you can see endive plant we’ve planted two weeks ago and they are ready, maybe in ten days to plant them outside. We plant them very late at the beginning of August because they are frost resistant, a little bit at least. And we can harvest them end of September until the middle of November.
H(m): There is one saying in our area and they say, “One time hoeing is better than two times watering”. And this is really true, I made this experience. When you hoe, then the water stays in the ground so there is no need to water the plants. But of course all this experience I made are here, north of the Alps.
We have enough rain. I do not have any experience how this could be in the south or in semi-desert areas. But I think when I would use straw or grass cuttings, it also could be a very good harvest. Zucchini, squash, peppers or tomatoes, or all these other fruits, which like more warm areas, they can grow very well under these conditions.
Mr. Helmut: The area behind me is what we do not use at the moment, but the garden is getting bigger and bigger every year, because the demand is also getting bigger and bigger.
Mr. Helmut: We have also a lot of flowers in the garden in different colors, and they, of course, attract different insects which are necessary to fertilize some plants. Some plants only need wind for fertilizing, but some also need insects. And it’s good to have some nice flowers inside because the insects like the different colors, especially the blue flowers they like the most. And there are a lot of wild bees and bumble bees here. You can see now here, there are the plants, but there are also a lot of wild herbs in between.
We can use these wild herbs for making some juice. We just have to know which herbs we can use. So we have a small book that shows which herbs in our area are edible.
And this is what I can recommend to everybody, a nice little book about the wild herbs in the local area might be very helpful. Also there are a lot of wild herbs in between the plants that we like to eat. You can see that these plants still develop very well.
SupremeMasterTV(m): What is this?
Mr. Helmut: Mangold. The amount of vegetables we can harvest here on this small bit of land is around 6½ tons.
SupremeMasterTV(m): How big can it grow if you don’t cut it?
Mr. Helmut: Now this is already the final state. They will not become bigger than maybe six kilos.
HOST: In one of the longest studies ever conducted on organic farming practices, research by the US-based Rodale Institute has found that organic soil management not only minimizes fossil fuel use, it can also reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by removing it from the air and storing it as carbon in the soil. Scientists at the institute estimate that if organic practices such as planting cover crops, composting and crop rotation were implemented on the planet’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, nearly 40 percent of current CO2 emissions could be absorbed.
Mr. Helmut: These are potatoes. In our area the farmers have a massive problem with the potato beetle or Colorado beetle. But I’ve found out that when you put them on the pure soil, not bring them into the soil, then cover it with straw, they grow wonderful, and they do not have hardly any of the beetles. We also do not use any pesticides. If you look at our plants, of course they have some holes. There are a lot of animals here; of course they like the vegetables as much as we like them. But I always got enough harvest from them. Especially they are not so much because we have a more similar system like we have outside in the wild
Mr. Helmut: … areas. It’s more like a meadow here, so our plants are quite healthy and they are not attacked so strong by insects. To keep the plants healthy, it’s also necessary to have some rotation system. There are only a few plants you can plant over more years on the same place, but it’s better to let them rotate. So this year we have the squash and the zucchinis down there. Then we have all the Brassica. And then we have fennel and beetroots and mangold on top. So next year we will have the beetroots and the mangold down there, and all the others are coming more up.
Mr. Helmut: What is also important to keep the insects under control is that you plant as early as possible. When the last frost is gone or there are also plants, they can resist a little bit of late frost. So we start as early as possible because then the plants, when the insects want to attack them, the plants are already strong and they have their natural oil to protect them.
Of course we try to start very early with planting the plants outside. So we have to start early in the greenhouse putting the seeds into the sheets so that the plants, when the time is right, are already quite big. Of course these big plants are not so strongly attacked by insects, because when we plant a little bit of frost-resistant plants outside, maybe in the end of April, third week of April, there are no insects. The insects are coming maybe at the end of May. So this plant is already strong enough to resist the insects.
Mr. Helmut: As you can see, we also have slugs here, but they do not make a lot of destruction. They do not eat a lot of our plants. I think as long as they have enough things which are rotting, they do not attack the normal plants. Of course,when they get too much from time to time, I collect them and bring them down to the forest, and tell them that they should stay there. And it looks like it works.
Mr. Helmut: Most of the time I use this little ceramic knife, because I had the impression that all the vegetables taste different if I cut them with a metal knife or with a ceramic knife. Also in the kitchen we use a ceramic knife.
Mr. Helmut: Now finally I want to show you the cellar where we prepare the vegetable boxes. I take the old boxes from the supermarket and we can use them a few more times for delivering our vegetables. So it’s no need to buy new plastic boxes. We prepare between 15 and 35 for every delivery. We deliver.
Mr. Helmut:twice a week and we have a little bit more that 100 customers. So I’ll show you now the cellar. It’s cold in here; it’s nine meters into the solid stone and on some parts of the ceiling there’s more than one meter of soil on top.So we do not have any problems with the temperature. Here we can prepare the boxes and keep them overnight and in the morning they go into the car and they get delivered. And people really have these vegetables as fresh as from their own garden. We also don’t need any fridge in our house because the temperature is always very low in here so we can keep all the things,
what we need, what we normally would put into a fridge. For the winter we have two more cellars for the storage; one is very old, like 300 years maybe. And the other one we made new. These are the cabbages, the beet roots, the parsley roots, the kohlrabi, the potatoes and so on.
Mr. Helmut: This is our oldest cellar; I think this is the oldest part of the house. The house is first mentioned in a contract in 1795 and when you come into the cellar you think, you can see that it’s really that old.
Mr. Helmut: So here we store many things, especially the potatoes. We put them in bags, in like onion bags and then we cover it with this sand and it keeps very well until June of next year. We still can take them out of this sand in a very good quality, and they are solid, like harvested in autumn. And the same is with the beetroots and the parsley roots.
Mr. Helmut: It’s also healthy, in my opinion, because it is not that cold like in a fridge, and so when you take something out of the cellar, you can eat this immediately, without doing anything harmful to your stomach. So this is my way of ecological and economical farming.
Mr. Helmut: We have short transport distances to the customers. This is good for the environment. We do not use any fertilizer; we do not use even animal fertilizers outside on the field. And this also protects the environment, because when you use animal fertilizer, then a lot of methane gas and nitrite goes into the air. It’s really enough when you only use grass cut and straw and all the waste from the kitchen, what you have. As I’ve already told, the family needs around 300 square-meters and can save a lot of money with this when one person works one hour a day.
And a very important thing is also that the organic food produced in this way is very healthy. So you have a lot of benefit for your body also. So if anybody has a little piece of land, he can produce some vegetables on it, he can bring it to the towns, because there are so many people who are waiting for really good quality. It is really good for the environment because we do not have this long transport.
This also saves money, saves a lot of money for the government, if people eat more healthy. And finally it’s also good for us. This way of producing vegetables we do since the year 1989 and it still works, and it’s getting better and better. And the demand is getting more and more every year. So it would be necessary to produce more.