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Friday, May 2, 2014

Cost of Compliance Rant

I have already spent a morning, this week in Teagac, rearranging my farm map, for the area aid, because not every square inch of my farm grows grass. Here and there there are gorse bushes and even briars! Last year my planner put a 'habitat' area into my area aid plan as 'foliage' and as a result I was penalised by a considerable amount.  I was not the only one, and this is the reason diggers and matches are out, all over the country, burning and clearing land, that is marginally useful to agriculture, but crucial to wildlife.

As an aside, I haven't heard a cuckoo in the last few years and they used to drive me demented at this time of year. Neither (for the first time), have I seen any red bottomed bumble bees this spring. They used to be the first to arrive in my tunnel to pollinate the broad beans and crucifers. (I took this photo from http://urbanpollinators.blogspot.ie/2013/10/bumblebee-queens-fat-bottomed-girls-in.html sorry!)

Anyway, I come home from the Teagasc outing, to find an email from  the Organic Trust, requiring me to be the subject of an audit by INAB. I had never heard of INAB but I looked it up and they are a body that inspects people who inspect people. I suppose it has to be done.

So they are going to inspect the organic inspector inspecting me, in August. It turns out the inspector they want to send is a seed merchant who sells imported, conventional seeds, from his website. So I suggest that perhaps a different inspect would be more appropriate. BUT this is going to cost the Organic Trust over €2000 because that's what INAB inspectors cost, and they have to get this inspector inspected. Also they have been told to inspect seed producers so they have to send the auditors to me, and as I am the only seed producer growing a significant amount of seeds. HMMM…. why are they choosing seed producers this year?

Organic Trust inspectors don't get paid as much as the INAB, but in the end it is the organic farmers that pay for this, because it costs us (I think it cost me best part of €500 this year, to be certified organic), and use an organic label on our food, when it doesn't cost anything to NOT tell people that their food has been treated with chemicals.

So, now they are going to send a conventional farmer to inspect me. I am ok with that, because there is no conflict of interest, and I have found her very well informed and fair in the past.  Organic inspectors cannot be organic producers which is fair enough, as there is scope for conflict of interest. And, I am sorry to cost the OT and extra €2,000. In the end consumer that pays for this, or mostly can't afford to, and so organic food becomes increasingly only available to the wealthy. I didn't go into organic farming with a view to supplying a privileged few with safe food.

When I finish REPS 4 this year, there will be a temptation to drop the symbol. My customers are largely home gardeners and small certified organic producers. It would not be profitable for me to sell seeds in large enough quantities for large commercial organic enterprises. Larger organic seed companies can produce seeds more cheaply than Brown Envelope Seeds by growing them where labour is cheap and the weather is better, and there are a lot less inspections.

And here's another question? Why do food producers have to put their symbol numbers on what they produce, including seeds here, but there are no symbol numbers or producer numbers on imported organic seeds?

Now I better do some actual work!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Soil temperature is the best indicator of when it is the right time to sow vegetables


Norfolk farmers allegedly dropped their trousers, and sat on the soil to see if it was warm enough to sow crops. A soil thermometer is probably as accurate.  

Below are the Met Eireann soil temperature figures for Sherkin Island which is the closest weather station to Brown Envelope Seeds. Although soil temperatures differ a little from year to year, especially in spring and autumn, they are fairly predictable between May and September differing by only a degree or two on average. Met Eireann statistics can be found here By looking up the nearest station to you, you can see when soil temperature is suitable for the sowing of crops in your area, or you can use a soil thermometer - or you can use the Norfolk method. 

Mean 10cm soil temperature for Sherkin Island

Year
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Annual
2014
7.0
6.7
7.0









6.9
2013
7.5
6.8
6.3
8.9
12.3
15.5
18.8
17.6
15.3
13.7
8.5
8.0
11.6
2012
9.0
9.0
10.0
9.7
12.6
15.2
16.1
16.8
14.8
11.5
8.4
7.7
11.7
2011
5.5
8.1
8.5
12.6
13.4
15.7
16.7
16.2
14.5
12.5
10.9
8.1
11.9


The figures for Mullingar show more variation than Sherkin which is to be expected, as Mullingar is further inland and both higher summer and lower winter temperatures occur, as the temperature of the sea buffers the climatic changes near the coast. 

Mean 10cm soil temperature for Mullingar

Year
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Annual
2014
4.4
5.0
5.2









4.7
2013
4.7
4.6
4.8
8.3
12.6
16.6
20.1
18.1
15.0
12.5
7.2
6.0
10.9
2012
6.1
6.7
8.9
9.7
13.4
15.8
17.3
17.7
14.6
10.4
6.8
4.5
11.0
2011
2.7
6.0
7.1
12.3
13.0
15.5
17.4
16.3
14.4
12.1
9.2
5.1
10.9


Broad beans, rocket, kale, parsnips, peas, radishes and spinach can germinate at temperatures as low as 5ºC but may take up to a month to do so. At 10ºC a higher proportion of seeds will germinated and maximum germination of crops will be a lot faster than at 5ºC. As soil temperature reach 10ºC sometime in April or May crops such as beet, cabbage, lettuce, onions and leeks, will germinate but growth will be slow and the plants will be subject to more pressure from slugs and other leaf eating pests.  At 15ºC degrees, french beans, carrots and sweetcorn will germinate, and plant growth will be a lot faster,  so crops will have a better chance of competing with weeds. Soil temperatures in a polytunnel will be several degrees higher and so plants started under cover will get a head start. Corn, courgettes, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines are happier at soil temperatures of 20ºC or more and will do a lot better under cover. In a good summer they will have a chance outside and by choosing cold tolerant short season varieties chances of success are improved. 

The next table shows the germination of different vegetables at different temperatures. 
The number in brackets is the number of days to reach the level of germination. Most seeeds will germinate between 15 and 25



Crops
0ºC
5ºC
10ºC
15ºC
20ºC
25ºC
30ºC
35ºC
Asparagus
  0
  0
 61(53)
 80(24)
 88(15)
 95(10)
 79(12)
 37(19)
Beans, lima
  0
  0
  1
 52(31)
 82(18)
 90(7)
 88(7)
  2
Beans, snap
  0
  0
  1
 97(16)
 90(11)
 97(8)
 47(6)
 39(6)
Beets
  0
 53(42)
 72(17)
 88(10)
 90(6)
 97(5)
 89(5)
 35(5)
Cabbage
  0
 27
 78(15)
 93(9)
  0(6)
 99(5)
  0(4)
  0
Carrots
  0
 48(51)
 93(17)
 95(10)
 96(7)
 96(6)
 95(6)
 74(9)
Cauliflower
  0
  0
 58(20)
 60(10)
  0(6)
 63(5)
 45(5)
  0
Celery
  0
 72(41)
 70(16)
 40(12)
 97(7)
 65
  0
  0
Cucumber
  0
  0
  0
 95(13)
 99(6)
 99(4)
 99(3)
 99(3)
Eggplant
  0
  0
  0
  0
 21(13)
 53(8)
 60(5)
  0
Lettuce
 98(49)
 98(15)
 98(7)
 99(4)
 99(3)
 99(2)
 12(3)
  0
Muskmelon
  0
  0
  0
  0
 38(8)
 94(4)
 90(3)
  0
Okra
  0
  0
  0
 74(27)
 89(17)
 92(13)
 88(7)
 85(6)
Onions
 90(136)
 98(31)
 98(13)
 98(7)
 99(5)
 97(4)
 91(4)
 73(13)
Parsley
  0
  0
 63(29)
  0(17)
 69(14)
 64(13)
 50(12)
  0
Parsnips
 82(172)
 87(57)
 79(27)
 85(19)
 89(14)
 77(15)
 51(32)
  1
Peas
  0
 89(36)
 94(14)
 93(9)
 93(8)
 94(6)
 86(6)
  0
Peppers
  0
  0
  1
 70(25)
 96(13)
 98(8)
 95(8)
 70(9)
Radish
  0
 42(29)
 76(11)
 97(6)
 95(4)
 97(4)
 95(3)
  0
Spinach
 83(63)
 96(23)
 91(12)
 82(7)
 52(6)
 28(5)
 32(6)
  0
Sweet Corn
  0
  0
 47(22)
 97(12)
 97(7)
 98(4)
 91(4)
 88(3)
Tomatoes
  0
  0
 82(43)
 98(14)
 98(8)
 97(6)
 83(6)
 46(9)
Turnips
  1
 14
 79(5)
 98(3)
 99(2)
100(1)
 99(1)
 99(1)
Watermelon
  0
  0
  0
 17
 94(12)
 90(5)
 92(4)
 96(3)

I hope this will help people decide when to sow their seeds.