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Monday, March 26, 2007

..And Will checks in...a scientific explanation

It’s the oxygenation, stup... Let me rephrase. In a closed ecological system with dynamic nutrient inputs, oxygen quickly becomes a limiting factor in the overall health and balance of the system. This is especially true when what you are trying to culture is dependent on oxygen to live (and thrive). Maybe the lights were unnecessary. But if you are going through all the trouble to (hand) dig 160 feet of ditch for buried cable and assemble, wire, float and anchor an aerating fountain, might as well go for broke (literally). It wasn’t THAT expensive. However, counting the price of the pond, fish, fountain, and feed we would probably much better off buying catfish at the local seafood house. Of course, we wouldn’t know where they came from and they would not be as fresh and I couldn’t witness the joy of my spouse as she catches one after the other, which I happily take off the hook and drop into the bucket (and later into the fry basket).

I’ve learned a lot about fish farming. Maybe I take it too seriously (lights excluded), but once I have committed to raising something, I start to worry about whether I have considered all the aspects and am doing what is necessary to ensure success. I hate to fail, though I have on many occasions. But I am in particularly adverse to the stinky evidence of fish farming gone bad. I blame it partly on the fish hatchery guy. I really only wanted a reasonable amount of fish for our half-acre pond, 400 hybrid bream and 150 channel catfish. In cavalier fashion, the fish guy ensured me that 1000 fish can easily be raised in a half acre pond and, besides, fish by the thousand would be much cheaper per fish than buying less. I should have known from the outset that this guy was fast and loose. After I carefully filled clean ice chests with water adjusted to pond temperature, bringing a thermometer with me to ensure no shock to the fry from the hatchery truck tanks, the guy just sticks his hand in the ice chests and says, “That’s close enough!” So now I have 1000 dependents that I can’t declare on my taxes. No way am I going to let them down, nothing too good for them. And all was well until Spring when they started to eat more and grow more and excrete more and now I am watching the pond go through textbook water quality changes. From turbid (adjusted with lime), to clear and pretty, to cloudy again (nitrophilous bacteria converting ammonia to nitrate) to matted floating filamentous algae – yuk, to now a healthy dark green (suspended algae) thanks to the fountain, the physical raking of the filamentous algae, the dry peroxide, and the application of pond microbes (the aqua-sphere Thais referred to). I’m not imagining that I am out-of-the-water on this so to speak, but I am happy with the results and you can indeed raise 1000 fish in a half-acre pond, but it takes a much greater degree of attention than it might otherwise. For those who have farm ponds or are considering them, the best publications I have found that can be accessed on-line are from the Southern Region Aquaculture Center of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service at

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

a red bush and a fountain

ok. this will be brief. My mother gave us this little tiny stick of a bush when we moved here eight years ago. We put it in the side yard, under the oak tree, thinking, well, how big can it get? Apparently, pretty big. And every year I see some at a local nursery, and I vow to remember the name of this plant, and next year I can never remember what the heck it is. But it is truly beautiful. Plus, its an evergreen, and we all love that. So, here it is this week, in all it's glory. Same color as a true natural azalea, and every bit as magnificent:And, for our other evening fun, I give you the latest in Will's 'POND MANIA'.....wait for it...
the fountain with the blue lights! I tell you, I truly believe this man (who does indeed love his pond) has finally lost his mind. Sorry, Will. And of course I'm kidding. But it hits me at first as excessive. Yeah, yeah, I know. Oxygenization, which is probably misspelled. And the pond scum has been a big problem and the peroxide in a plastic tub (or as I prefer to call it, a tub of 'scum-be-gone') may not do it, as the 'BALL' of whatever, and I cannot keep up and don't remember what THAT is, may not get rid of the scum either. Thus, the argument for the ULTIMATE fix, the fountain! The survey so far says....let the man have his fun, and 'man, that is really great'. So, I will give it time. More later, but here is the daytime pic. Can't get the after-dark one...I must be doing something wrong, but I'll keep trying for that:
You've seen the pond at it's low ebb, before it filled, and you've seen the bird-kite, so this is just the next chapter in what I predict will be many, many chapters of pond excitement.

Sunday, March 04, 2007 stopping it now....

When you notice the tops of the oak trees start to get 'fuzzy', and the red flowering trees and tiny green leaves of the willows in the swamp between here and New Orleans, you know it's almost time. But it's when you see the deep green grass and weeds creep up to the edges of the roads, you know there's no stopping it...spring is actually here (!) I tromped around outside to see what's what and look for signs and there are many, many signs of the new season...clover, ah yes. And various other don't you people from the frozen north get jealous, although I am glad we are not in the land of snow. Come August or so, remember you'll be having the famous last laugh.
In the garden, things are peeking out from way, way underneath. So we never got around to cutting back the 'sticks' from the perennial sunflowers or the tarragon or the bergamot, but now that all sorts of craziness is happening down at the roots, cutting back old growth is rewarding. Here is the bergamot, as an example...
and the peppermint, coming up from the roots as well, although this we 'weed-eated' in the late fall, to get rid of the old growth: well - enough of tiny little bunches of new leaves....I mentioned the 'I Hate The Winter Grass' springtime problem, and digging out from it in the garden. It's kind of beautiful, really, because it is a deep dark green when everything else is brown and seemingly dead...but it is a terror just the same. To make my point, here is some probably wonderful fennel - but you can hardly tell, because the winter grass has taken over completely: and, after nearly two days of hoeing and hand-weeding, here is some of the lettuce that had suffered the same fate, but when you look the lettuce in Whole Foods, and then pull your hand back, thinking "wait. we have lettuce. I'm just lazy"....and now we have lettuce. And , after trying to crank up the mower, and going out for a new battery of course, and it could be worse, so that's good...a little part of the yard is mowed, and one flower bed planted, and we work outward from there. In the meantime, the fish we put in the pond in the late fall are growing like crazy...they expect food every day at 5:00 p.m. Don't try to feed them at 4, or 3, because they simply won't eat at that time. It's getting almost scary, the way they boil to the surface. I'm trying not to think of actually eating them, although I look forward to that...but they aren't as anonymous as some other fish from some other pond. that's pretty silly, i know. This is the best I can do for now, but it gives you a tiny idea of what it looks like at feeding time.More later

About Our CSA

We are entering the sixth season of our CSA (Community Support Agriculture). What began as an experiment for the creative marketing of our produce has developed into a fulfilling experience for us and our members, one that we so look forward to each year. What you will find below is an explanation of how we operate the CSA, the cost, length of season, expected commitment, etc. We ask that you read it carefully before responding. We have dedicated members that stay on year after year, but for a number of folks, it is challenging to come out every Saturday for nine weeks running and to have time to participate. For those who love the quality of the vegetables, herbs, and flowers – and who like the experience of planting, harvesting, and interacting with others who have the same likes, it is a very rewarding experience. Please read on…

What is Community Supported Agriculture? (CSA)

Community supported agriculture is a movement that got its start in this country in the mid-1980’s, driven by a desire by neighborhood groups to re-connect with local growers and producers. The CSA movement is enjoying increasing popularity and availability with each passing year. The goal of CSA is to involve the vegetable-eating-public more intimately with “their” farm. Why do I use “their” in that description? Because in CSA, members buy a share of the farm which, in effect, provides them an ownership stake in the vegetables produced. In that respect, the farmer and consumer become partners. There are many benefits from this relationship to the farmer and consumer alike. For the farmer, it provides a guarantee of sales so he can plant to supply his contract. It also minimizes the time required to market the produce, freeing him up for what he does best, which is…farm. For the consumer, it guarantees a steady supply of farm fresh produce for a fixed price, encouraging healthy eating, and promoting a sense of participation and community around the farm that has been long lost in the age of industrial agriculture. For both the farmer and consumer, it promotes a bond based on trust and mutual interest. For those interested in information on CSA and farms that have set up these systems, the web has worlds of information available with a simple word search.

Why did Port Hudson Organics decided to become Port Hudson CSA?

For most of you who have spent any time visiting our farm and talking with us, you are aware that Thais and I both work full time, maintaining our little farm, bee hives, yard, and other farm-related activities in our “spare” time. This means that virtually every waking hour that we are not at work you would find us in the field or manning the produce tent (or carport). As we expanded our farm-related enterprises to areas such as biodiesel, berries and bee hives, the farm demands finally exceeded our available time. So in 2009, in order to continue our farm sustainability effort and reduce our time commitment (primarily the time spent selling), we tried a concept that is becoming increasingly popular across the country in the “Eat fresh, Eat local” movement, that is, the CSA farm. In the spring of 2009, we enrolled (what ended up to be) 25 CSA member families, and were blown-away by the success of the venture. Member enthusiasm, assistance, and clear appreciation for the unsurpassed quality of our produce resulted in an excellent experience for everyone involved. Since then, we have expanded our enrollment to approximately 40 member families, which is a comfortable carrying capacity of our one acre garden. At this point in our lives, with regular jobs and other commitments, we have no plans to expand further.

What kind of vegetables are grown and how are they distributed?

We grow a wide variety of Spring and Summer vegetables (generally about 20 different varieties). At any time during the season, you can expect around 12-15 different offerings, and 6-8 culinary herbs. We also grow cut flowers, usually zinnias and sunflowers. Each week members will receive a selection list by email. Members then make 7 selections of vegetables and 2 selections of herbs from the list. Members can check off their first and second preferences and we will make every effort to supply the members with their selected items. In cases where we are short on a particular item, say, yellow squash, we will substitute another available vegetable (for example, zucchini) from member’s second choice selection if at all possible. Members are free to make notes on their list if there is a particular vegetable they do not want (for example, zucchini) and we will try to honor their request. The amounts (pounds or numbers) of vegetables or herbs per selection were based on an approximation of equal value based on the prices we have charged for these items in the past. And as last year’s members know, the amounts of produce on the list are the minimum amount you will receive. Often, when there is a surplus beyond what has been selected, we will throw in some “lagniappe”. Members should note that there are a couple of exceptions on the selection list: a bouquet of flowers, when available, counts as two selections from the herb list; similarly, watermelon, when available, counts as two selections from the vegetable list. Each week, a basket with all of your produce and herbs will be made up with your list attached. Blank lists will be available for you to fill out for the following week, as the mix of produce and herbs change with the weather.

Can I select more than one of a particular item?

Yes, if you want 6 pounds of tomatoes one week, you can simply put the number “3” next to the selection “2 lbs. tomatoes” on your sheet and pick four other vegetable selections to make a total of seven selections. If we have enough tomatoes to satisfy your request, we will provide that amount. If we are short, we will attempt to at least provide you with one selection of tomatoes and make up the rest of your basket with other choices. We will let members know each week which vegetables we expect to have in abundance. For example, due to space considerations, we have limited plantings of corn and each planting is generally available for only one Saturday, so we will be encouraging members to select as much corn as they can from the list on the weeks that corn becomes available (we try to send out weekly emails on the state of the farm). Of course, members will also be given preference for the purchase of additional vegetables if, for example, you want to freeze a bushel of corn when it comes in and there is surplus available.

How will the CSA Baskets be distributed?

Members choose to come to the farm either Friday evening or Saturday morning each week during the season. Once you arrive, you can choose from a variety of garden activities in progress and lend a hand. This can range from planting and/or picking vegetables; washing, weighing, and bundling produce; cutting and arranging flowers; cutting and separating herbs to order; helping to pack baskets with weekly selections; sitting under a tree with other members and stripping beans off of plants. Occasionally there is a bigger project at hand, such as erecting the cucumber fence or helping to mulch rows with hay. There will be weeks when you are not able to help due to your schedule, but we find that most of our members help out almost every week. The process takes about an hour, and when you leave you bring your weekly basket with you. Many find this outdoor activity in the garden a respite from their work week in an office!

Members are asked to pick up their CSA baskets each Saturday by 10:00 AM. This is probably the biggest commitment you will make as part of the CSA. We understand that it may be difficult to come every Saturday for 9 weeks, but there are a couple of strategies you can employ to make this easier. (1) you can buddy-up with one or more members in your area and go on alternate Saturdays, each delivering or holding the other’s basket for pick up at their house; (2) you can send a family member or close friend; or (3) you can come Friday afternoon to help with the harvest and bring your basket home with you then (we had a lot of members take this option, as we do a lot of harvesting on Friday in advance of the Saturday bedlam).

What if you have a crop failure or natural disaster?

A CSA is a partnership between the farmer and the consumer, and within this partnership is an understanding of shared risk. That said, we do not expect members to bear the full cost of a catastrophic failure, nor have we ever experienced a completely failed season. Should the worst happen, members will be reimbursed a portion of their investment and we will do all in our power to make it right with members through a combination of refunds and discounts on following seasons.

What time commitment is asked as part of the CSA?

CSAs, by definition, include member support. Each week, literally hundreds of pounds of produce must be harvested, hundreds of bunches of herbs must be clipped and tied, and dozens of flower bouquets must be picked. Without member support, this is logistically impossible for part time farmers. Hence, we ask members to commit to help in some fashion (picking, sorting, filling orders, etc) according to their abilities every other weekend or so (we are not rigid on this). We have found that members enjoy becoming involved in the process. Learning about how food is grown and harvested is an uplifting and educational experience. After all, that is why we do it. And it is an integral part of CSA farms across the country. We are assuming that you found us because you appreciate this connection, and we hope that you can find the small amount of time to required to experience that connection.

What is the cost?

Cost of the CSA membership is $350. This covers 9 weeks of farm fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers of your choice. This comes out to about $38 per week, probably more than you would pay at the grocery store for conventionally-grown produce, but less than you would pay for organic produce at Whole Foods. The quality of the produce, however, cannot be approached by any supermarket, and the experience is priceless. Also, membership in the CSA includes a pint of our farm honey when it becomes available.

In Summary

So that about covers it. If you want to experience first hand the pleasures of seeing, smelling, picking and eating truly wholesome food, please respond quickly to this email. We would appreciate some information on you and your family, and why you want to join the CSA. We will let you know within a few days, and will ask for payment at that time. We ask that you understand that we have about twice as many families on the waiting list as we have openings. However, if you do not make in into the CSA this year, we will give you first shot at joining next year if you are still interested.

Thank you so much for your interest in our little farm. We hope to see you this spring.

Will & Thais Perkins

Port Hudson Organics CSA