Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

Mycologist Paul Stamets lists 6 ways the mycelium fungus can help save the universe: cleaning polluted soil, making insecticides, treating smallpox and even flu viruses.


To understand how Stamets came to believe mushrooms could save the world, it helps to know how they saved Stamets.

He was born in 1955 in Salem, Ohio, one of four brothers. His father, an engineer, owned a firm that oversaw construction projects for the U.S. Army. Stamets was a shy kid with a crippling stutter who dreamed of becoming a trailblazing scientist. “We lived in a big house with a lab in the basement,” he recalls, “and I looked up every experiment I could find.” He nearly blew the place up on several occasions while tinkering with chemicals.

Then, when he was 12, his father’s business failed and the family splintered. Stamets’ mother decamped with him and his twin brother to a small apartment in Columbiana, Ohio, where they lived in poverty. Eventually, she moved with the boys to her own parents’ vacation home near Seattle and sent them on scholarship to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Stamets felt like a misfit among preppies. He threw himself into martial arts (later earning black belts in both tae kwon do and hwa rang do) and identified with the counterculture that was reaching its crest.

During his senior year, Stamets and his brother were expelled for selling marijuana to fellow students. They hitchhiked back to Seattle, where they finished high school at a public institution. Stamets spent a summer toiling as a sawmill hand before enrolling at Kenyon College in Ohio. But he still felt out of place and spent hours wandering in the woods off campus.

That’s where he headed the day he tried hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms for the first time. He climbed a tree, but was too intoxicated to climb down. Soon a thunderstorm blew in, and he was lashed by rain and wind. As lightning struck nearby, he realized he could die at any moment, yet the scene was overwhelmingly beautiful. He felt part of the forest and the universe as never before. He reflected on his life and how to change it. “Stop stuttering now, Paul,” he told himself, repeating the phrase like a mantra.


Click here to read the full article.

food crises

Global Food Crises

Sara Menker quit a career in commodities trading to figure out how the global value chain of agriculture works. Her discoveries have led to some startling predictions: “We could have a tipping point in global food and agriculture if surging demand surpasses the agricultural system’s structural capacity to produce food,” she says. “People could starve and governments may fall.” Menker’s models predict that this scenario could happen in a decade — that the world could be short 214 trillion calories per year by 2027. She offers a vision of this impossible world as well as some steps we can take today to avoid it.


Global Report on Food Crises 2017

Globally, 108 million people in 2016 were reported to be facing Crisis level food insecurity or worse (IPC Phase 3 and above). This represents a 35 percent increase compared to 2015 when the figure was almost 80 million.

The acute and wide-reaching effects of conflicts left significant numbers of food insecure people in need of urgent assistance in Yemen (17 million); Syria (7.0 million); South Sudan (4.9 million); Somalia (2.9 million); northeast Nigeria (4.7 million), Burundi (2.3 million) and Central African Republic (2 million). The immediate outlook points to worsening conditions in some locations, with risk of famine in isolated areas of northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Conflict causes widespread displacement (internal and external), protracting food insecurity and placing a burden on host communities. The populations worst affected are those of Syria (6.3 million Internally Displaced People) and Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries (4.8 million); Iraq (3.1 million); Yemen (3.2 million), South Sudan (3 million), Somalia (2.1 million) and northeast Nigeria (2.1 million).

In some countries, food security has been undermined by El Niño, which largely manifested in drought conditions that damaged agricultural livelihoods. The countries most affected are in eastern and southern Africa and include Somalia, Ethiopia (9.7 million), Madagascar (0.8 million in the Grand Sud), Malawi (6.7 million), Mozambique (1.9 million) and Zimbabwe (4.1 million). Projections for early 2017 indicate an increase in the severity of food insecurity in these regions. This is particularly the case in southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Record staple food prices, notably in some southern African countries, Nigeria and South Sudan, also severely constrained food access for vulnerable populations, acutely aggravating food insecurity and the risk of malnutrition.

El Niño-induced weather patterns and conflicts were the main drivers of intensified food insecurity in 2016. The persistent nature of these drivers, and their associated impacts, has weakened households’ capacity to cope, undermining their resilience and ability to recover from future shocks. The food crises in 2016 were both widespread and severe, affecting entire national populations, such as in Yemen, or causing acute damage in localized areas, such as in northeast Nigeria. These shocks were not bound by national borders and the spillover effects had a significant impact on neighbouring countries.


No Dig Garden

Intensive Farming

Intensive Farming


Intensive farming or intensive agriculture involves various types of agriculture with higher levels of input and output per unit of agricultural land area. It is characterized by a low fallow ratio, higher use of inputs such as capital and labor, and higher crop yields per unit land area.


No Dig Garden

Strip-till is a conservation system that uses a minimum tillage. It combines the soil drying and warming benefits of conventional tillage with the soil-protecting advantages of no-till by disturbing only the portion of the soil that is to contain the seed row.

Benefits of Strip till

Strip till warms the soil, it allows an aerobic condition, and it allows for a better seedbed than no-till. Strip-till allows the soil’s nutrients to be better adapted to the plant’s needs, while still giving residue cover to the soil between the rows. The system will still allow for some soil water contact that could cause erosion, however, the amount of erosion on a strip-tilled field would be light compared to the amount of erosion on an intensively tilled field. Furthermore, when liquid fertilizer is being applied, it can be directly applied in these rows where the seed is being planted, reducing the amount of fertilizer needed while improving proximity of the fertilizer to the roots. Compared to intensive tillage, strip tillage saves considerable time and money. Strip tillage can reduce the amount of trips through a field down to two or possibly one trip when using a strip till implement combined with other machinery such as a planter, fertilizer spreader, and chemical sprayer. This can save the farmer a considerable amount of time and fuel, while reducing soil compaction due to few passes in a field. Strip-till conserves more soil moisture compared to intensive tillage systems. However, compared to no-till, strip-till may in some cases reduce soil moisture.

Challenges of both Strip-till and No-till systems

In reduced tillage strategies, weed suppression can be difficult. In place of cultivation, a farmer can suppress weeds by managing a cover crop, mowing, crimping, or herbicide application. The purchase of mowing and crimping implements may represent an unjust expenditure. Additionally, finding an appropriate cover crop mix for adequate weed suppression may be difficult. Also, without mowing or crimping implements it may not be possible to achieve a kill on the cover crop. If mowing, crimping, and suppression with a cover crop mixture fail, herbicides can be applied. However, this may represent an increase in total farm expenses due to herbicides being used in place of cultivation for weed suppression.

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A microgreen is a young vegetable green that is used both as a visual and flavor component or ingredient primarily in fine dining restaurants. Fine dining chefs use microgreens to enhance the attractiveness and taste of their dishes with their delicate textures and distinctive flavors. Smaller than “baby greens,” and harvested later than sprouts, microgreens can provide a variety of leaf flavors, such as sweet and spicy. They are also known for their various colors and textures. Among upscale markets, they are now considered a specialty genre of greens that are good for garnishing salads, soups, plates, and sandwiches.

Edible young greens and grains are produced from various kinds of vegetables, herbs or other plants. They range in size from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 cm), including the stem and leaves. A microgreen has a single central stem which has been cut just above the soil line during harvesting. It has fully developed cotyledon leaves and usually has one pair of very small, partially developed true leaves. The average crop-time for most microgreens is 10–14 days from seeding to harvest.

A nutritional study of microgreens was done in the summer of 2012 by the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, indicating promising potential that microgreens may indeed have particularly high nutritional value compared to mature vegetables

Among the 25 microgreens tested, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin K, and vitamin E, respectively. In general, microgreens contained considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids—about five times greater—than their mature plant counterparts, an indication that microgreens may be worth the trouble of delivering them fresh during their short lives.

Storage and commercial transport

The ARS researchers found that buckwheat microgreens packaged in films with an oxygen transmission rate of 225 cubic centimeters per square inch per day had a fresher appearance and better cell membrane integrity than those packaged in other films tested. Following these steps, the team maintained acceptable buckwheat microgreen quality for more than 14 days—a significant extension, according to authors. This study was published in LWT-Food Science and Technology in 2013.


Automated Microgreen Bottom Watering System – DIY


Microgreen – A Basement Farm – No Soil, No Sunlight

Microgreens Timelapse from ChefSteps on Vimeo.

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pest control


Pesticides are substances that are meant to control pests or weeds. The term pesticide includes all of the following: herbicide, insecticide, insect growth regulator, nematicide, termiticide, fungicide, and disinfectant(antimicrobial). The most common of these are herbicides which account for approximately 80% of all pesticide use. Most pesticides are intended to serve as plant protection products (also known as crop protection products), which in general, protect plants from weeds, fungi, or insects.

In general, a pesticide is a chemical or biological agent that deters, incapacitates, kills, or otherwise discourages pests. Target pests can include insects, plant pathogens, weeds, molluscs, and microbes. Although pesticides have benefits, some also have drawbacks, such as potential toxicity to humans and other species. According to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 9 of the 12 most dangerous and persistent organic chemicals are organochlorine pesticides.


Pesticides are often referred to according to the type of pest they control. Pesticides can also be considered as either biodegradable pesticides, which will be broken down by microbes and other living beings into harmless compounds, or persistent pesticides, which may take months or years before they are broken down: it was the persistence of DDT, for example, which led to its accumulation in the food chain and its killing of birds of prey at the top of the food chain. Another way to think about pesticides is to consider those that are chemical pesticides are derived from a common source or production method.

Some examples of chemically-related pesticides are:

Neonicotinoid pesticides

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. Imidacloprid, of the neonicotanoid family, is the most widely used insecticide in the world. In the late 1990s neonicotinoids came under increasing scrutiny over their environmental impact and were linked in a range of studies to adverse ecological effects, including honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) and loss of birds due to a reduction in insect populations. In 2013, the European Union and a few non EU countries restricted the use of certain neonicotinoids.

Organophosphate pesticides

Organophosphates affect the nervous system by disrupting acetylcholinesterase activity, the enzyme that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Most organophosphates are insecticides. They were developed during the early 19th century, but their effects on insects, which are similar to their effects on humans, were discovered in 1932.[citation needed] Some are very poisonous. However, they usually are not persistent in the environment.

Carbamate pesticides

Carbamate pesticides affect the nervous system by disrupting an enzyme that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. The enzyme effects are usually reversible. There are several subgroups within the carbamates.[citation needed]

Organochlorine insecticides

They were commonly used in the past, but many have been removed from the market due to their health and environmental effects and their persistence (e.g., DDT, chlordane, and toxaphene).

Pyrethroid pesticides

They were developed as a synthetic version of the naturally occurring pesticide pyrethrin, which is found in chrysanthemums. They have been modified to increase their stability in the environment. Some synthetic pyrethroids are toxic to the nervous system.

Sulfonylurea herbicides

The following sulfonylureas have been commercialized for weed control: amidosulfuron, azimsulfuron, bensulfuron-methyl, chlorimuron-ethyl, ethoxysulfuron, flazasulfuron, flupyrsulfuron-methyl-sodium, halosulfuron-methyl, imazosulfuron, nicosulfuron, oxasulfuron, primisulfuron-methyl, pyrazosulfuron-ethyl, rimsulfuron, sulfometuron-methyl Sulfosulfuron, terbacil, bispyribac-sodium, cyclosulfamuron, and pyrithiobac-sodium. Nicosulfuron, triflusulfuron methyl, and chlorsulfuron are broad-spectrum herbicides that kill plants weeds or pests by inhibiting the enzyme acetolactate synthase. In the 1960s, more than 1 kg/ha (0.89 lb/acre) crop protection chemical was typically applied, while sulfonylureates allow as little as 1% as much material to achieve the same effect.


Biopesticides are certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, canola oil and baking soda have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides. Biopesticides fall into three major classes:

  • Microbial pesticides which consist of bacteria, entomopathogenic fungi or viruses (and sometimes includes the metabolites that bacteria or fungi produce). Entomopathogenic nematodes are also often classed as microbial pesticides, even though they are multi-cellular.
  • Biochemical pesticides or herbal pesticides are naturally occurring substances that control (or monitor in the case of pheromones) pests and microbial diseases.
  • Plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) have genetic material from other species incorporated into their genetic material (i.e. GM crops). Their use is controversial, especially in many European countries.


Alternatives to pesticides are available and include methods of cultivation, use of biological pest controls (such as pheromones and microbial pesticides), genetic engineering, and methods of interfering with insect breeding. Application of composted yard waste has also been used as a way of controlling pests. These methods are becoming increasingly popular and often are safer than traditional chemical pesticides. In addition, EPA is registering reduced-risk conventional pesticides in increasing numbers.

Cultivation practices include polyculture (growing multiple types of plants), crop rotation, planting crops in areas where the pests that damage them do not live, timing planting according to when pests will be least problematic, and use of trap crops that attract pests away from the real crop. Trap crops have successfully controlled pests in some commercial agricultural systems while reducing pesticide usage;however, in many other systems, trap crops can fail to reduce pest densities at a commercial scale, even when the trap crop works in controlled experiments. In the U.S., farmers have had success controlling insects by spraying with hot water at a cost that is about the same as pesticide spraying.

Release of other organisms that fight the pest is another example of an alternative to pesticide use. These organisms can include natural predators or parasites of the pests. Biological pesticides based on entomopathogenic fungi, bacteria and viruses cause disease in the pest species can also be used.

Interfering with insects’ reproduction can be accomplished by sterilizing males of the target species and releasing them, so that they mate with females but do not produce offspring. This technique was first used on the screwworm fly in 1958 and has since been used with the medfly, the tsetse fly, and the gypsy moth. However, this can be a costly, time consuming approach that only works on some types of insects.

Agroecology emphasize nutrient recycling, use of locally available and renewable resources, adaptation to local conditions, utilization of microenvironments, reliance on indigenous knowledge and yield maximization while maintaining soil productivity. Agroecology also emphasizes empowering people and local communities to contribute to development, and encouraging “multi-directional” communications rather than the conventional “top-down” method.


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Plants need to be fertilised because most soil does not provide the essential nutrients required for optimum growth. Even if you are lucky enough to start with great garden soil, as your plants grow, they absorb nutrients and leave the soil less fertile.

There are six primary nutrients that plants require. Plants get the first three—carbon, hydrogen and oxygen—from air and water. The other three are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium come from the soil.

  • Nitrogen helps plants make the proteins they need to produce new tissues. In nature, nitrogen is often in short supply so plants have evolved to take up as much nitrogen as possible, even if it means not taking up other necessary elements. If too much nitrogen is available, the plant may grow abundant foliage but not produce fruit or flowers. Growth may actually be stunted because the plant isn’t absorbing enough of the other elements it needs.
  • Phosphorus stimulates root growth, helps the plant set buds and flowers, improves vitality and increases seed size. It does this by helping transfer energy from one part of the plant to another. To absorb phosphorus, most plants require a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Organic matter and the activity of soil organisms also increase the availability of phosphorus.
  • Potassium improves overall vigor of the plant. It helps the plants make carbohydrates and provides disease resistance. It also helps regulate metabolic activities.

There are three additional nutrients that plants need, but in much smaller amounts:

  • Calcium is used by plants in cell membranes, at their growing points and to neutralize toxic materials. In addition, calcium improves soil structure and helps bind organic and inorganic particles together.
  • Magnesium is the only metallic component of chlorophyll. Without it, plants can’t process sunlight.
  • Sulphur is a component of many proteins.

Finally, there are eight elements that plants need in tiny amounts.

These are called micronutrients and include boron, copper and iron. Healthy soil that is high in organic matter usually contains adequate amounts of each of these micronutrients.

Organic vs. Synthetic Fertilisers

Do plants really care where they get their nutrients? Yes, because organic and synthetic fertilisers provide nutrients in different ways. Organic fertilisers are made from naturally occurring mineral deposits and organic material, such as bone or plant meal or composted manure. Synthetic fertilisers are made by chemically processing raw materials.

In general, the nutrients in organic fertilisers are not water-soluble and are released to the plants slowly over a period of months or even years. For this reason, organic fertilisers are best applied in the fall so the nutrients will be available in the spring. These organic fertilisers stimulate beneficial soil microorganisms and improve the structure of the soil. Soil microbes play an important role in converting organic fertilisers into soluble nutrients that can be absorbed by your plants. In most cases, organic fertilisers and compost will provide all the secondary and micronutrients your plants need.

Synthetic fertilisers are water-soluble and can be taken up by the plant almost immediately. In fact applying too much synthetic fertiliser can “burn” foliage and damage your plants. Synthetic fertilisers give plants a quick boost but do little to improve soil texture, stimulate soil life, or improve your soil’s long-term fertility. Because synthetic fertilisers are highly water-soluble, they can also leach out into streams and ponds. Synthetic fertilisers do have some advantages in early spring. Because they are water-soluble, they are available to plants even when the soil is still cold and soil microbes are inactive. For this reason, some organically-based fertilisers, such as PHC All-Purpose Fertilizer, also contain small amounts of synthetic fertilisers to ensure the availability of nutrients.

For the long-term health of your garden, feeding your plants by building the soil with organic fertilizers and compost is best. This will give you soil that is rich in organic matter and teeming with microbial life.

Foliar Feeding?

Plants can absorb nutrients eight to 20 times more efficiently through their leaf surfaces than through their roots. As a result, spraying foliage with liquid nutrients can produce remarkable yields. For best results, spray plants during their critical growth stages such as transplanting time, blooming time and just after fruit sets.

What About pH?

Even if proper nutrients are present in the soil, some nutrients cannot be absorbed by plants if the soil pH is too high or too low. For most plants, soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0. A soil test will measure the pH of your soil. Lime or wood ash can be used to raise pH; sulfur or aluminum sulfate can lower pH. Keep in mind that it’s best to raise or lower soil pH slowly over the course of a year or two. Dramatic adjustments can result in the opposite extreme, which may be worse than what you started with.

Once again, a helpful solution is to apply compost. Compost moderates soil pH and is one of the best ways to maintain the 6.5 ideal.

How to Choose a Fertilizer

In most cases, an all-purpose fertilisers with a N-P-K ratio of 1:1:1 will provide the nutrients all plants need for healthy growth. The proportion of each macronutrient the fertiliser contains (nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K)) “N-P-K” ratio reflects the available nutrients —by weight—contained in that fertilizer. For example, if a 100-Kg bag of fertilizer has an N-P-K ratio of 5-7-4, it contains 5 Kg of nitrate, 7 Kg of phosphate (which contains phosphorus), 4 Kg of potash (which contains potassium) and 84 Kg of filler.

Note that the N-P-K ratio of organic fertilisers is typically lower than that of a synthetic fertiliser. This is because by law, the ratio can only express nutrients that are immediately available. Most organic fertilizers contain slow-release nutrients that will become available over time. They also contain many trace elements that might not be supplied by synthetic fertilisers.

To build the long-term health and fertility of your soil, we recommend using granular organic fertilizers. Supplementing with a water-soluble fertiliser ensures that your plants have the nutrients they need when they’re in active growth

More on Composting

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small holding farming

Ending World Hunger

How do we rid the world of hunger?

Answer: We can’t – unless we can get modern agricultural technology to smallholder farmers.

The challenge is massive. The world’s smallholder farmers – generally speaking, those who operate farms of a few acres or less – account for more than 90 percent of the world’s farmers, most of them in rural areas of the developing world where poverty and hunger are widespread. I’ve seen firsthand how bad roads, poor communication, lack of quality inputs like good seed and fertilizers, food waste due to lack of refrigerated storage and contamination, and a tangle of other obstacles including government policies, have kept these growers from advancing – keeping their yields (production per acre) and return on investment at only a fraction of those achieved by their counterparts in the developed world.

  • There is broad consensus that many of these complex problems can be solved with the help of science.
  • For example, Dr. Shapiro wants to use technology to solve the problem of aflatoxin, which contaminates approximately one quarter of the food crops in the world, causing enormous waste as well as growth stunting and liver cancer in thousands who consume it.
  • In another example, genetically modified (GMO) seeds that have already been developed could immediately help mitigate damage from one of the greatest threats currently facing African agriculture – the fall armyworm.
  • Non-science-based regulations throughout the continent also deny these same farmers access to safe and effective weed control technology that is widely used across the Western world.
  • When it comes to seeds, there have been quite a few PPPs that have successfully bred crops that are better suited to grow in the Sub-Saharan environment.
  • New gene editing techniques can also provide transformational improvements at a relatively low cost.
  • Breakthroughs in digital communication technology are also making it possible to communicate directly with individual smallholders – helping them overcome the historic obstacle of isolation.

So…what’s missing?

If the scientific capability is there and the barriers to adoption are low – and there is obviously dire need – what is keeping modern agricultural technology from getting to smallholders in developing countries? In my view, two main things are still needed: regulatory easement and large-scale seed production.

Extracts from the article by: Robb Fraley click here to read the full Article.

Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto

permaculture garden design

Permaculture Garden Design Principles

The Permaculture Design Principles are a set of universal design principles that can be applied to any location, climate and culture, and they allow us to design the most efficient and sustainable human habitation and and food production systems.

Permaculture is a design system that encompasses a wide variety of disciplines, such as ecology, landscape design, environmental science and energy conservation, and the Permaculture design principles are drawn from these various disciplines.

permaculture garden design

Design principles

Firstly, to introduce all the design principles we employ in Permaculture, here is a summary list with brief descriptions of each one where necessary, to provide a general overview of the areas they cover. The links below will direct you to the detailed articles on each of the design principles.

  1. Relative Location – every element is placed in relationship to another so that they assist each other
  2. Each element performs many functions
  3. Each important function is supported by many elements
  4. Efficient energy planning –  for house and settlement (zones and sectors)
    -Zone Planning
    -Sector Planning
  5. Using Biological Resources – Emphasis on the use of biological resources over fossil fuel resources
  6. Energy Cycling – energy recycling on site (both fuel and human energy)
  7. Small Scale Intensive Systems
    -Plant Stacking
    -Time Stacking
  8. Accelerating Succession and Evolution – Using and accelerating natural plant succession to establish favourable sites and soils
  9. Diversity – Polyculture and diversity of beneficial species for a productive, interactive system
  10. Edge Effect – Use of edge and natural patterns for best effect
  11. Attitudinal Principles
    -Everything works both ways
    -Permaculture is information and imagination intensive

Go Back to Small Scale Intensive Farming  (SSIF)

low impact energy

Low impact energy

While many renewable energy and low impact energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas and developing countries, where energy is often crucial in human development.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.

As most of renewables provide electricity, renewable energy deployment is often applied in conjunction with further electrification (Low impact energy), which has several benefits: Electricity can be converted to heat (where necessary generating higher temperatures than fossil fuels), can be converted into mechanical energy with high efficiency and is clean at the point of consumption. In addition to that electrification with renewable energy is much more efficient and therefore leads to a significant reduction in primary energy requirements, because most renewables don’t have a steam cycle with high losses (fossil power plants usually have losses of 40 to 65%)

Renewable energy systems are rapidly becoming more efficient and cheaper. Their share of total energy consumption is increasing. Growth in consumption of coal and oil could end by 2020 due to increased uptake of renewables and natural gas.

A (very) simplified diagram showing the layout of a basic ground source heat pump system

Heat pumps

A heat pump is simply a device for absorbing heat from one place and transporting it to another. Heat pumps for space and/or water heating can get ‘free’ heat from air, water or the ground outside the building. In each case the system has 3 components: a collector, the heat pump, and a distribution system. Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) rely on heat from the sun warming the surrounding land. Since the heat pump will produce circulating temperatures of only 30-45°C, highly efficient low temperature radiators or preferably underfloor heating are required, with back-up heating if the system is used for domestic hot water.

Solar hot watera typical indirect solar hot water system: the gas boiler will kick in if the solar coil in the cylinder doesn’t raise the temperature of the water enough

Also known as solar thermal, a domestic solar hot water system is one which absorbs the sun’s energy and transfers it to a storage cylinder. It is different from photovoltaics; solar hot water panels do not produce electricity, they heat water directly.In a direct system, the water that passes through the panels is the water that eventually comes out of the hot tap.In this type of system, there are issues around the water in the panels freezing in winter (so they need to be drained) and lime-scale build-up. In an indirect system, the water in the panels passes through a heat exchanger (coil) in the cylinder and then back to the panels in a continuous loop. Anti-freeze can be added, and there is no problem with lime-scale build-up.

Solar electricity

solar electricity 5

Solar electricity is the generation of electricity from the power of the sun, via photovoltaic (pv) cells. The solar electricity produced this way(and also from batteries) flows in one direction only, and so is called direct current. Direct current can be stored in batteries to power 12 volt appliances. However, these are more expensive and less readily available than ordinary domestic 240 volt appliances, so batteries and an inverter can be used to convert the 12 volt direct current to 240 volt alternating current. If you’re using batteries they need to be deep-cycle (able to be continuously drained and re-charged) with a charge controller to prevent overcharging.

Wind energyWind generators work well in combination with photovoltaics;

Wind generators are devices that produce electricity from the power of the wind; inside the body of a generator, there is a coil of wire and a magnet. When a coil of wire is moved inside a magnetic field, it produces an electric current in the wire. Wind generators come in many sizes and shapes, from small units found on caravans and boats to enormous machines that can power a whole village. Wind power is suitable for small installations, unlike many other generation technologies which are only viable on a large scale. Check the wind speeds at your location, or monitor them yourself with an anemometer, then look at graphs provided by manufacturers for their turbines to see what power (in Watts) you will get for your average windspeed.

Wind pumps

Preliminary drawing for a home-made wind pump

Wind pumps are devices for moving water, powered solely by the wind. There are 3 main types:

  1. direct drive: a crank on the axle of the turbine rotor raises and lowers a pump plunger via a rod
  2. geared drive: does the same, but the crank is geared to run more slowly than the turbine; smaller turbines benefit from being geared, to enable a slower pump, but with more volume
  3. electric generator on the turbine: the turbine generates electricity which drives the pump; you can then have the pump some distance from the turbine

Wind pumps have a distinct look – usually having many more and flatter blades than wind generators. This allows them to operate at slower wind speeds, than required for electricity generation.

The way a wind pump works has not changed for hundreds of years. The wind causes the turbine rotor to rotate, which turns a crank, which converts the rotation into the vertical up-and-down movement of a transmission rod. The rod raises and lowers a piston in a pump comprising a cylinder and two valves. During the down stroke the cylinder fills with water, and during the up stroke the piston raises the water in the cylinder and riser, taking the water to wherever you want it.


The main benefit of batteries is for people who are off-grid. If you’re building a renewable electricity system, you’re not looking to use electricity as it’s generated – the sun won’t be shining all the time, and the wind won’t be blowing all the time, and you’re going to want more electricity at some times than others. So you’ll need to store your electricity.

The best types for renewable energy systems are leisure/deep-cycle batteries (for caravans, boats or mobile homes) or traction batteries (forklifts), as they can be repeatedly deeply discharged and recharged.

A collection of 600 amp-hour, 2-volt cells wired in series (part of a 48-volt battery pack);

There are 3 kinds of lead-acid battery:

  • gel – the electrolyte is in a gel form. They are used mainly for emergency standby, and are no good in a cycling (charge/discharge) situation.
  • glass mat – the electrolyte is held within a soaked glass mat between the plates. They are better than gel batteries for cycling, but over time, anomalies will develop between the individual cells as regards voltage and state of charge. They are used in situations where a liquid electrolyte might spill.
  • flooded battery – contains liquid electrolyte that can spill; this is the best type for a renewable energy system. They need to be topped up with distilled water from time to time.


Simplified cross-section of a type of digester Biogas is mostly methane (around 60%) with carbon dioxide (around 40%) and a little hydrogen and hydrogen sulphide. It is made by anaerobic bacteria breaking down organic matter in the absence of oxygen (when the organic matter is waterlogged – i.e. a slurry). Biogas is generated naturally in the mud at the bottom of marshes; it is called marsh gas, and often ignites. The process also occurs in landfill sites, and in the digestive system of humans and other animals.

The equipment in which the organic matter breaks down anaerobically is called a digester, and there is also some sort of storage container for the gas produced. Raw biogas can be ‘scrubbed’ by passing it through slaked lime, which removes most of the CO2 and increases its calorific value.

Biogas digester The two main types of digesters are the continuous and the batch. Continuous digesters have a constant throughput of material, and batch digesters extract the gas from a contained batch of material, which is then emptied and a new batch added.

Biogas digesters are already widely used in developing countries, especially India and China, as firewood for cooking becomes scarce. There are millions of small family plants in India and China. In the West, digesters tend to be larger-scale, taking animal slurries and human sewage. But they can be domestic-scale, for individuals looking to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.

Energy savingLED lighting now covers a wide range of bulbs

Learn about ways to reduce the amount of energy you need, with low-energy kit and techniques. Or just by consuming less.

LED lights use less electricity – you can get a 90% reduction if you are replacing traditional filament bulbs and up to 30% if you are replacing more modern CFL or fluorescent ones. They last much longer too. A standard LED bulb will outlast a CFL bulb by about five times (and an incandescent bulb by at least 20 times). Indeed, if you buy a good quality bulb you can expect it to last for more than 20 years.

water management

Water management

Water is a vital component of agricultural production. It is essential to maximise both yield and quality. Water has to be applied in the right amounts at the right time in order to achieve the right crop result. At the same time, the application of water should avoid waste of a valuable resource and be in sympathy with the environment as a whole.

Understanding, measuring and assessing how water flows around the farm, and recognising how farming practices affect flows, will help farmers to manage water efficiently and reduce pollution risks.

Measures to improve land and water productivity may include:

  • Making more rainwater available to crops when most needed (capture water -rainwater harvesting, soil and water conservation-, and using it -deficit irrigation; supplementary irrigation etc.);
  • on-farm water management to minimize water losses by evaporation;
  • use of improved crop varieties;
  • use of improved cropping systems and agronomics, such as conservation tillage;
  • development of financial frameworks to provide incentives for the adoption of best practices and new technology;
  • use of low quality water in non-conventional (not for direct human consumption) applications such as forestry;
  • Evaluation of rainfall patterns to determine quantity and quality available for agriculture use and rethinking crop scheduling.

Increased land and water productivity in rainfed systems will imply technologies and practices but also need to be supported by capacity building, financing, marketing systems and adequate policies and institutional changes.

Principles and Practices for Sustainable Water Management _At a farm level

Drip Irrigation System

Drip irrigation is used in farms, commercial greenhouses, and residential gardeners. Drip irrigation is adopted extensively in areas of acute water scarcity and especially for crops and trees such as coconuts, containerized landscape trees, grapes, bananas, ber, eggplant, citrus, strawberries, sugarcane, cotton, maize, and tomatoes.

Drip irrigation for garden available in drip kits are increasingly popular for the homeowner and consist of a timer, hose and emitter. Hoses that are 4 mm in diameter are used to irrigate flower pots.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of drip irrigation are:

  • Fertilizer and nutrient loss is minimized due to localized application and reduced leaching.
  • Water application efficiency is high if managed correctly.
  • Field levelling is not necessary.
  • Fields with irregular shapes are easily accommodated.
  • Recycled non-potable water can be safely used.
  • Moisture within the root zone can be maintained at field capacity.
  • Soil type plays less important role in frequency of irrigation.
  • Soil erosion is lessened.
  • Weed growth is lessened.
  • Water distribution is highly uniform, controlled by output of each nozzle.
  • Labour cost is less than other irrigation methods.
  • Variation in supply can be regulated by regulating the valves and drippers.
  • Fertigation can easily be included with minimal waste of fertilizers.
  • Foliage remains dry, reducing the risk of disease.
  • Usually operated at lower pressure than other types of pressurised irrigation, reducing energy costs.

The disadvantages of drip irrigation are:

  • Initial cost can be more than overhead systems.
  • The sun can affect the tubes used for drip irrigation, shortening their usable life. (This article does not include a discussion of the effects of degrading plastic on the soil content and subsequent effect on food crops. With many types of plastic, when the sun degrades the plastic, causing it to become brittle, the estrogenic chemicals (that is, chemicals replicating female hormones) which would cause the plastic to retain flexibility have been released into the surrounding environment.)[12]
  • If the water is not properly filtered and the equipment not properly maintained, it can result in clogging or bioclogging.
  • For subsurface drip the irrigator cannot see the water that is applied. This may lead to the farmer either applying too much water (low efficiency) or an insufficient amount of water, this is particularly common for those with less experience with drip irrigation.
  • Drip irrigation might be unsatisfactory if herbicides or top dressed fertilizers need sprinkler irrigation for activation.
  • Drip tape causes extra cleanup costs after harvest. Users need to plan for drip tape winding, disposal, recycling or reuse.
  • Waste of water, time and harvest, if not installed properly. These systems require careful study of all the relevant factors like land topography, soil, water, crop and agro-climatic conditions, and suitability of drip irrigation system and its components.
  • In lighter soils subsurface drip may be unable to wet the soil surface for germination. Requires careful consideration of the installation depth.
  • Most drip systems are designed for high efficiency, meaning little or no leaching fraction. Without sufficient leaching, salts applied with the irrigation water may build up in the root zone, usually at the edge of the wetting pattern. On the other hand, drip irrigation avoids the high capillary potential of traditional surface-applied irrigation, which can draw salt deposits up from deposits below.
  • The PVC pipes often suffer from rodent damage, requiring replacement of the entire tube and increasing expenses.
  • Drip irrigation systems cannot be used for damage control by night frosts (like in the case of sprinkler irrigation systems)

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The right machinery

The right machinery

For many starting out on small plots, the tractors, harvesters, machinery and other farm equipment that may be needed are expensive and often too big for the job in hand. These lightweight, affordable and open-source tools will become a part of the growing revolution that is taking place across the globe.



High value crop

High yielding crops

Crop yields are an essential aspect of every farmer’s day, impacting how profitable their farmland can be. Learning how to improve crop yields is key to successful farming, and access to new technologies and planting methods has given farmers an opportunity increase crop production – the key to maintaining the long term sustainability of their farm.

The concept of high-performance agriculture is key in understanding the importance of crop yields. How much you can produce within a given amount of land is essentially how efficient you are as a farmer. In today’s economy, being able to do things efficiently is as important as ever. You want to ensure that you are maximizing your space and the land you have worked to cultivate. Crop yields not only determine your efficiency, but your bottom-line as well.

1. Cucumbers

Cucumbers need space to climb, which makes them great in a vertical garden. You can put them right up against a wall, or make a trellis for them to climb up. If you are really tight on space and want to put them in a container, no problem! Buy varieties that say they are compact or “bush” varieties. These vines only spread a few feet. You might also want to think about placing a few onions near or around your cucumber plants as studies show that not only will onions keep soil bacteria and insects away, but they increase the cucumber plants overall yield.  No matter how you grow them, you are going to end up with more cukes than you can possibly eat, freeze, or pickle!

2.  Squash

If you don’t pay attention to your squash plants, they can overtake your entire garden in one season! This is why squash is a great plant to grow vertically. Squash are one of those super over productive plants that are going to give you tons of squash, no matter which type you want to grow, and there are so many different kinds! Zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, you name it! Your neighbors will be hiding from you after a while because they are afraid you are going to give them yet another bag of squash from your garden!

3. Beans

We don’t mean green beans, we mean black, white, or pinto beans, the kind you can dry and use all year round. These are a staple you will really appreciate later on in the year. In fact, when stored properly, beans can last for years! This is a great way to stretch the family budget and if you are a prepper, you can store your beans almost forever. Depending on the variety you choose, beans can produce about 3 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet! Many beans are natural climbers, so rig up a trellis and let them go to town!

4. Tomatoes

The old garden stand-by. You can plant grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes in containers and get tons of them right up until the first frost. These are great for canning or making into sauces for later use. Why pay 4 bucks for a small container of cherry tomatoes when you can buy a plant for a dollar or two, put it in a container and have all the cherry tomatoes you want, fresh and organic, all summer long? Other tomatoes are great in containers as well, just be sure that you water them well in the hottest months. Most tomatoes do need plenty of water and sun, but other than that, these are some of the easiest plants you will ever grow, and you will end up with so many tomatoes, that you might start to feel a bit Italian.

5. Peanuts

Peanuts require lots of hot weather and plenty of water, so these grow best in southern states. However, if you can grow them in your area, peanuts are one of the best crops you can grow in terms of not only yield, but nutritional value. You can get as much as 6 pounds per 100 square feet. Peanuts are high in fat, yet rich in protein and they keep forever. If you are a prepper, these are another good choice. Even if you’re not, imagine having truly fresh roasted peanuts for snacks, making your own peanut butter, or those peanut sauces for Thai food from your own fresh peanuts? Delicious!

6. Leaf Lettuce

Now, these are best grown in areas where it isn’t quite so hot. The cool thing about leaf lettuce is that you can harvest the leaves whenever you like, and more will grow back in their place. You simply need to be certain that you don’t cut the crown. Snip some leaves for your salad, and they will grow back in a matter of days! Some of the best leaf lettuce varieties are Oak Leaf, Mesclun, and Red Sails.

High Value Crops:

High value crops generally refer to non-staple agricultural crops such as vegetables, fruits, flowers, ornamentals, condiments and spices2, 3. Most high value agricultural crops are those known to have a higher net return per hectare of land than staples or other widely grown crops. They therefore generally have a monetary value higher than staple crops in emerging and expanding local, national, regional and global markets. High value crops and products present an ideal opportunity for the poor in many developing countries to increase their income by participation in commodity value chains, provided there is effective vertical coordination to ensure that supply is in relative balance with demand.

Unlike commonly grown crops like grain and vegetables, specialty crops are not widely grown and bring higher prices for growers. It’s not unusual to find growers earning thousands of Dollars per acre with these unique cash crops. All of these high vale crops listed in this article are easy to grow and produce above average income from a small plot of land.

Here are six specialty crops worth growing:

lavender farming

1. Lavender. Lavender farming can produce above-average profits for small growers, as it is such a versatile crop. The fresh flowers are sold in bundles or used for lavender oil. The flowers are also easy to dry, for sales to florists and crafters to make wreaths and floral arrangements. Lavender is also used to make value-added products such as sachets, herbal pillows, aromatherapy products and skin care products like soap. That’s the charm of growing lavender…nothing is wasted.

2. Gourmet mushrooms. Mushrooms are an ideal specialty crop for urban farmers, as they are grown indoors and produce a very high return per square foot. The two most widely grown gourmet mushrooms are oyster and shiitake, which are available fresh or dried in many grocery stores. Oyster mushrooms are especially productive, and can produce up to 12 Kg per square foot of growing area every year. Although both oyster and shiitake can be dried, most are sold fresh.

3. Woody ornamentals. Also known as woody stems, woodies are trees and shrubs whose branches are harvested and sold to florists and individuals for arrangements and craft products such as wreaths. Most woodies have colorful stems, like Red Twig dogwood, odd stems like curly willow or stems with attractive berries, buds or flowers. Some of the well-known woodies include holly in winter, pussy willows in spring and forsythia and hydrangeas in late spring and summer. Unlike annual plants like vegetables, woodies can be harvested over and over again for decade.


goldenharvest cover garlic bulb4. Garlic. The payoff on growing garlic can be big for those who grow “gourmet” garlic. There are 3 types of gourmet garlic, also called hardneck garlic. They are Rocambole, Purplestripe and Porcelain, and once you have experienced their superior flavor, you’ll never want to go back to ordinary garlic again. That’s why customers are willing to pay high prices to get their favorite varieties. Another grower and customer favorite is Elephant garlic, whose large, mild cloves which commands higher prices. In good soil, an acre of Elephant garlic can yield 7,000 Kg. It is very hard to lose a crop of garlic crop, as it tolerates a wide range of soil and weather conditions. That’s why some growers  call garlic the “mortgage lifter.”

5. Herbs. The use of herbs has enjoyed impressive growth in the last two decades as more people began using fresh herbs for cooking, medicinal herbs and value-added herbal products such as soaps, candles, teas and bath oils. The biggest herb demand is for fresh culinary herbs for grocery stores and restaurants. Quite a few growers also supply new and regular customers at the saturday farmer’s markets. A popular value-added item there is a 4-herb windowsill size “instant’ herb garden, ready to start snipping. Other growers find dried culinary herbs in packets sell well at the farmer’s market. With hundreds of choices, including a broad range of ethnic herbs for serious cooks, growers can thrive with fresh herbs.

6. Ginseng. Nicknamed “green gold”, the value of this plant is in it’s slow growing roots. Asians have valued ginseng for thousands of years as a healing herb and tonic. Even though growing ginseng requires a six year wait to harvest the mature roots, most growers also sell young “rootlets” and seeds for income while waiting for the roots to mature. Over the six year period, growers can make thousands of Dollars on a half-acre plot from seeds, rootlets and mature roots.

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