Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Natural farming with worms and microbes

We visited Aloha House today – an orphanage and organic farm near Baker’s Hill on the outskirts of Puerto Princesa. We met with its director, Keith Mikkelson, who showed us around the farm. He is growing a very wide variety of vegetables and herbs, and also has a fish pond and is raising livestock in quite a compact area.

He has an extensive vermiculture operation as well, and is using African Nightcrawlers which he propagated from the native worms found in water buffalo dung. He is using a method of top harvesting the vermicast that is different to what I have seen in other vermiculture operations. It ensures that only casts are harvested and avoids worms and manure ‘contaminating’ the vermicast.

He has also recently started growing organic mushrooms:



Whilst touring the farm I noticed that the leafy greens had very few holes in them – a problem that you often see with organic vegetables that are attacked by caterpillars and grasshoppers in the absence of them being sprayed with pesticides. Keith said his ‘secret’ was in their technique of inoculating the soil with beneficial microbes that helps the plants to take up more of the minerals (calcium especially) and trace elements that are needed to make them unpalatable to insects (but still tasty for humans!).

I bought a copy of Keith’s book ‘Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics’ and look forward to learning more about his obviously successful growing techniques. Keith also runs three-day seminars on organic farming every month, along with a local horticulturalist, Simon Gill. We made a note to book one before we start growing vegetables at Mandala Farm.

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