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Bolivia Diaries: Day 12, Part 5 - More on Biological Control with PROBIOMA

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Nov 28, 2011 at 13:10:33 PM PST

This diary is part of a series describing my trip to Bolivia to study food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate change. Our twelfth day was one I was eagerly anticipating. We left the city of Santa Cruz for two days with Productividad Biosfera Medio Ambiente (PROBIOMA). First, they took us to their training center, where we would spend the night, where they presented on their work. Then we visited a small, organic farm. The next day they took us to the heart of the industrial ag region of the department where we saw responsible soy production and lots of irresponsible soy production.

This post covers the last of a very long, tiring (but wonderful) day with PROBIOMA, in which they presented to us on some of the specific biological pest controls they promote.

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Day 1, Part 4: Potatoes, Quinoa, and the Climate Crisis

by: Jill Richardson

Sun Aug 21, 2011 at 21:55:39 PM PDT

This diary is part of a series describing my trip to Bolivia to study food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate change. On our first day, we saw a presentation I had literally waited a year to see. Last year I arrived a day late to Bolivia and missed it, and the listened to everyone talk about how great it was for the rest of the trip. And.... it WAS great! The presentation was made by Eliseo Mamani Alvarez from Fundacion PROINPA. Here is the second part, which focuses on two very important crops, potatoes and quinoa. Please at least read the part about quinoa and learn about the impact of the recent popularity of quinoa in the U.S. and Europe on the Andean people and their land.

Previous diaries can be seen here:

Day 1, Part 1: The El Alto Market
Day 1, Part 2: Intro to Bolivian Climate and Climate Change
Day 1, Part 3: Intro to Andean Biodiversity
Day 1, Part 4: Potatoes, Quinoa, and the Climate Crisis
Day 2: The La Paz Foodshed
Day 3: Agriculture in Chicani, A La Paz Suburb
Day 4: Coffee!
Day 5: Yungas
Day 6: Yungas to Santiago de Okola
Day 7: Santiago de Okola
Day 8, Part 1: Festival in Cochabamba - Morenada
Day 8, Part 2: Festival in Cochabamba - Morenada
Day 8, Part 3: Festival in Cochabamba - Tinku
Day 8, Part 4: Festival in Cochabamba - Caporales
Day 8, Part 5: Festival in Cochabamba - Street Food

You can also find diaries from my 2010 trip to Bolivia here.

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Garden Update: Summer Harvest

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Sep 06, 2010 at 21:48:47 PM PDT

Summer has come and gone, with an eventful and often disappointing few months in our garden. We live in a very dry climate and it's been stressful to the plants to survive in such poor soil. This is our first year gardening, and I wasn't willing to pay for too much in the way of soil inputs, so we made due with what we could produce ourselves. We had a little bit of compost, some nitrogen from a cover crop, and that's about it. Despite that, we did get some food from our garden, and we had a lot of fun.
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The Holiday Trash Can Potato Miracle

by: la motocycliste

Tue Dec 29, 2009 at 13:30:37 PM PST

Flush with success with growing potatoes in two metal trash cans with the bottom cut off over the summer, I decided to try for a fall crop. I calculated that the potatoes would take ninety days to grow, and that we most probably would not get a freeze until January. So, armed with cheap potting soil, one trash can (so as not to push my luck, this was an experiment)a bag of bone meal
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Potatoes- Lessons Learned and More Questions

by: la motocycliste

Sun Aug 09, 2009 at 22:43:51 PM PDT

today, I unloaded the second trashcan (see previous diary, "Potato Mystery" for explanation of trashcan farming) which held Yukon Golds,and also dug up part of the back garden. The one pound of Yukon gold seed potatoes had turned into at least 4 pounds (judging by eyeball) of big, good looking bakers.

(lessons learned below)

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Tomato and Potato Blight: A Total Disaster

by: Jill Richardson

Sun Aug 09, 2009 at 18:43:41 PM PDT

Thank you Dan Barber for writing about late blight in the New York Times. I had heard about it but had not paid tons of attention to it... until I arrived on the east coast.

Out here, EVERYONE is talking about blight, which first got their tomatoes and then went after the potatoes. Here's what Barber says:

But this year is turning out to be different - quite different, according to farmers and plant scientists. For one thing, the disease appeared much earlier than usual. Late blight usually comes, well, late in the growing season, as fungal spores spread from plant to plant. So its early arrival caught just about everyone off guard.

And then there's the perniciousness of the 2009 blight. The pace of the disease (it covered the Northeast in just a few days) and its strength (topical copper sprays, a convenient organic preventive, have been much less effective than in past years) have shocked even hardened Hudson Valley farmers.

Everyone out here is talking about the cool and rainy weather all summer, which has made growing food interesting for all kinds of reasons. The weather made the crops more vulnerable to blight. In addition to the weather, Barber also points the finger at Big Box stores which distributed plants to home gardeners all over the Northeast. It's already been reported on this site that they were the expected vehicle the blight used to travel so far, so fast. Barber brings up one more point though: the increase in home gardening this year. He says:

Here's the unhappy twist: the explosion of home gardeners - the very people most conscious of buying local food and opting out of the conventional food chain - has paradoxically set the stage for the worst local tomato harvest in memory.

The lesson? Next time get your plant starts from a local nursery or a farmers market, not freakin' Home Depot and Wal-Mart!!!!! Barber agrees, and adds that the government can help - if only they better funded the agricultural extension service, whose job it is to "share the latest technological advances, introducing new varieties of vegetables and, yes, checking the fields for disease."

He ends with a point that SHOULD be obvious:

Healthy, natural systems abhor uniformity - just as a healthy society does. We need, then, to look to a system of food and agriculture that values and mimics natural diversity. The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it's really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.

Lack of biodiversity is how the Irish screwed themselves when the potato blight hit so many years ago. When you have many varieties of plants, you are more likely to have a variety that is resistant to blight (or other pests, diseases, and problems).

Unfortunately, one of my favorite gardeners, Paula Crossfield of Civil Eats, was hit by the blight too. I recommend her article on it because she gives a much more wonky perspective on what's being done about the problem than Barber's more general op ed. (And, by the way, Paula DID shop at a local nursery, not a Wal-Mart. It was just too late by that point because the blight had spread.)

UPDATE: Here's another worthwhile read about the blight, also by Civil Eats. They are on fire these days!

Discuss :: (13 Comments)

Potato Mystery

by: la motocycliste

Sun Aug 02, 2009 at 22:36:42 PM PDT

Last year, I found a package of potatoes in the pantry that had sprouted. Inspired by an unused row in the garden, I planted them all. They grew (pretty dark green leaves) and eventually I had about three pounds of potatoes for next to no effort.

Flush with success, I read up on backyard potato growing. Several people suggested growing potatoes in a trash can or something similar. The idea was to keep dumping soil on top of the potato vines, encouraging them to grow taller and make more potatoes.

(keep reading, mystery below)  

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The Irish and Our Potatoes

by: Eddie C

Mon Mar 16, 2009 at 22:48:59 PM PDT

( - promoted by Jill Richardson)

I hope you enjoy this story that had a slightly different version posted a year ago on Daily Kos.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

This is a true story about the potato. A little history that points out two things, immigration has never been popular with the established population and sex always sells.

Did you know that the potato was a relative newcomer to Ireland when they learned a painful lesson about depending on just one crop? The potato has been cultivated for nearly 4000 years but it did not reach Ireland until the middle of the sixteenth century. The Irish in taking a fondness for the spud were copying the behavior of mountain dwellers from the land we now know as Peru.

This humble tuber was cultivated by people who predated the Incas and the popularity of the potato was caused by the fact that they lived in cold mountainous areas where the great South American staple maze did poorly. This Peruvian climate was similar to that of Ireland.

By the time the Spanish explorers turned conquerors discovered the potato, the tuber had moved down from the mountains and became popular throughout South America with many new even more hearty varieties having been cultivated. The potato received a bad reputation rapidly with the Spanish conquerors since it was not grown from seed like the food in the Bible and since the spud's family is know as the deadly nightshade.  

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Place for Potatoes

by: paradox

Thu Jan 15, 2009 at 05:57:46 AM PST

A Normandy vet who trusts me handed over care to a little rose and mum garden at the Episcopal church I allegedly belong to.  I was absurdly touched by it, I'd just shown up for three hours for whatever grounds labor was around and never expected stewardship for what I consider to be the most holy spot on the grounds.  When I went to services going early was the best part, secluded in charming blooming garden, you smoke'n spit'n take in life, I don't know, I just felt like I belonged there.

Next week is a 40 bag-or 40 cubic feet-run of chicken manure, something I've done so many times over the years for my own roses and gardens it's like making coffee, 40 bags is just right on the cart and the truck for a chicken shit trek to Home Depot.  Clip, clean, till in.  Then clean up and rebuild the flower beds, fixing their soils and watering systems so I can get busy in March.

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Enough Rosemary: Potato Diary

by: Anne Hawley

Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 19:53:41 PM PDT

"A man can live on processed food from here till judgement day if he has enough Rosemary"
--Shepherd Book, "Firefly"

(Cross-posted at The Breeze At Dawn)

Back in April I planted some potatoes.

They duly came up and filled the container with a riot of green, leafy plants, which I fed a diet of dishwater and what sunshine may come when the Pacific Northwest is having One of Those Summers.

Today, a couple of the plant-tops were yellowing and pretty well finished, so I dug down and lo! Spuds.

Just like at the grocery store, only smaller. And fresher.

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