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Updates in the World of Organic Farming

Yarrowhead is proud to be a contributor in the world of organic farming and hopes to inform those who are interested in growing, preserving, and enhancing the earth through growing their own natural food.

Please enjoy these posts and be sure to reach out to us with your own ideas and knowledge. Through better education and collaboration, we can take huge steps towards bettering our planet, its' food stores, and its' people.

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

From alfalfa to zinnias and everything in between, the honeybee is one amazing hyper-pollinator. But before you put that next bite in your mouth, read on to see if you're helping or hurting her.

In today's news, thankfully the topic of Apis mellifera, a.k.a. the honeybee, is present in more and more public conversations. However, with the recent news that the government is cutting funds in honeybee research, it is crucial now more than ever for individuals, businesses and families to step up and take some action. Why? Because everything we know and love has the potential to change, and unfortunately not for the better. CCD -- Colony Collapse Disorder -- has fatally affected honeybees officially since 2006, and is ever-increasing to date.

To better understand how we can combat colony collapse, we much first disect the causes of the disorder. It's no secret that flowers, trees, grasses, and crops we harvest for food around the globe benefit from the honeybee. Crops that are pollinated yield higher crop production per acre, larger size and better product shape, and even enhanced product taste compared to less or un-pollinated crops. Currently the official cause of CCD is still being determined. Thirteen years seems like a long time to struggle with something, but when we're talking about a creature that has survived for millions of years, it's really a drop in the bucket for evolution. Today's agriculture -- monoculture in particular -- is unlike anything bees have had to deal with, relatively speaking. The use of pesticides, systemic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers… chemicals in general are relatively new in comparison to the 120 million years we're talking about. With that in mind, let's highlight some of the more pressing matters.

The causes of Colony Collapse Disorder are extremely difficult to pinpoint because there are no definitive symptoms. No formal documented cause has been determined, so every realistic cause remains a possibility. Some of the more popular suggestions are:

• Traditional bee pests and diseases. Although varroa mites are still the number one lethal pest to honeybees, the idea that they, along with other pests/diseases are the cause for CCD is nearly void. The symptoms of a CCD-affected hive does not match up with the typical symptoms of a pest-infested colony.

•Queen sourcing. Another minute chance but plausible suggestion. Because there are only a few major producers of queen bees across the nation, this can lead to poor genetic diversity.

•Chemical use in bee colonies. Just like the foods we consume that are labeled "organic," treatment products that are labeled organic can still contain chemicals to manage disease and pests. Commercial honey producers, as well as local honey producers may treat bees with "organic" sprays or powders for diseases and pests with effects to be found just as lethal even when used according to the label and management recommendations.

•Environmental chemicals surrounding bees. Bees have a three to five-mile foraging radius so they can be exposed to toxins while foraging pollens and nectar, drink contaminated water sources, or inhale them directly.

There's also always the possibility of unidentified or recently introduced pests and pathogens that can contribute to the decline in bee population.

So now that we know what's happening, what can we do about it?

We're glad you asked.

Nutritional health is the physical foundation of every living organism so it's only natural that this pertains to bees as well. If you are a beekeeper, you know how important nutrition is to keep your hives strong. Just like if you are a person, you know how important nutrition is to keep your body alive and strong. Proper etiquette in beekeeping is never rob a colony of it's honey if there is not substantial "extra" available. Not only is it cruel to do this, it can also be fatal to the entire colony because bees create and depend on honey for survival.

Another way to support bees is to know your honey source. While it's true commercial honey producers are more likely to use chemicals to prevent pests and diseases, smaller local producers may use them as well. If at all possible, schedule a tour to the home apiary or farm and ask about their beekeeping practices and principles. Large commercial producers also travel cross-country to pollinate multiple crops a year. This is exhausting and stressful to bees which can also affect the bees' health. Although it is crucial to support local bees, again, know your source.

A prettier way to assist our furry flying friends is to plant bee-friendly flowers. While it's true the honeybee is the most important pollinator on the planet, she also is limited to certain flower pollens based on the size of the molecules. This can come in the form of tree pollens, grasses, bushes, potted plants or fruits and vegetables. And just because a plant is labeled "good for pollinators" does not always mean bees -- there are thousands of other pollinators (who prove important too!). Research which flora is good for honeybees in your growing zone, or go to our Enrich page for a comprehensive list of flowers that grow well in Oklahoma.

Lastly, on the subject of flowers, it is also important to know your flower source. The only way we can truly turn this planet around is to start taking personal responsibility. It may seem inconvenient or expensive, but future generations are at stake here, not to mention our own legacy. It is so easy to pick up that lovely potted lavender plant or Better Boy while we're on a Home Depot run or at the grocery store. But did you know there's a very good chance those pretty flowers were treated with a systemic pesticide that can most definitely prove fatal to a bee that lands on said flower, as well as any other bee that follows her lead? Systemic pesticides hold the toxins not only in the flowering parts, but also the stem, the leaves, the fruit… Literally the entire plant contains these chemicals. So not only are the insects affected, but now those big juicy fruits containing those toxins go into our mouths, our children's mouths, our grandchildren's mouths… you get the picture.

To make change happen, we must first identify our own responsibility and importance in a crisis. Then together we can create the solutions in order to carry out the change. As a global community, we are moving in the right direction, but it's going to take some serious time and energy on all of our parts. Take the time to think about what you are purchasing and why. And always remember even in the smallest blip of time, you are always leaving your mark.

Saddest day on the farm. It is safer to destroy the equipment than risk potentially spreading whatever caused this collapse to other colonies (no bees were harmed in the fire since it was empty due to CCD).

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Updated: Jun 4, 2019

Well first we'd like to start by saying Congratulations! You're well on your way towards becoming organic -- this means your food is clean! But really though, it's slightly unnerving, we understand. I'll never forget the time I was seven years old and the bite of ranch~covered lettuce on my fork --about to enter my mouth-- started moving. Cue panic. My mother casually laughed something about “extra protein” and my horrified child self took years to ever even consider the world of “garden food” again. But here we are in my adult life raising our farm with all sorts of [good and not so good] organisms hanging around everywhere. Of course I don't think I'll ever be as cavalier as my mother was about it. Actually we are extremely meticulous about cleaning our produce because I still don't think I've completely gotten over that memory. But on the flip side, I have fully embraced that many bugs are beneficial and even vital to a biodynamic farm. Really, instead of mass hysteria over a worm in our salad, we should be thinking, “oh god, I almost ate poison!” or fed it to our children/grandma/pets.. that's what insecticides are, right? So even if a bug is not a beneficial one, or you happen to spot where one munched, we need to reprogram our minds to be thankful that there is clean produce under that crawly pal. Biodynamic farming takes years to refine. Eventually we'll get to where pests are fully controlled, but even then, every year brings different weather patterns and different insects. It's a continual learning process. So once you identify who the pest is and what it's doing there, it's time to release a little biodiverse hero called beneficial predators. Cue grandiloquent warfare.

If you would like to know more about beneficial insects, comment below and we'll send you more information.

Amanda Wilson is co~owner of Yarrowhead Farms located in Wellston, OK where she and her husband Mike are taking great efforts to redefine organic. In studying primative and biodiverse farming practices along with modern holistic methods, together they are eager to share their successes and challenges to work towards restoring the planet through agriculture.

Releasing lady bugs as part of our organic integrated pest management program

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Updated: Aug 6, 2019

In light of the abundance in rainfall, we're going to talk about how to prevent plant disease, erosion and how to improve your soils physical structure.

Utlilizing compost in your farm or garden has many benefits which we will continue to discuss in even greater detail in coming issues. But this week we want to focus on how it helps when you are in a particularly wet season. In the Oklahoma soil, typically it is made up of mostly clay. On our farm specifically, we have a lot of sandy loam which is wonderful for drainage, but is left lacking rich nutrients and beneficial organisms. By incorporating compost comprised of organic matter, the humus in the compost binds together the particles in light crumbling soils, breaks down the sticky, heavy clay soils, and improves water retention in sandy soils. Compost also prevents leaching by holding in nutrients at the root zone. By the simple act of adding organic matter, you can transform your soil foundation to be more viable, increase the soils capacity to retain plant nutrients and resist erosion in the process. In terms of disease prevention, compost stabilizes the pH and provides a desirable habitat for beneficial soil organisms. This increases organisms like nitrogen~fixing bacteria and earthworm populations which inoculate the soil, improving resistance to both plant diseases and insect pests.

Just like human beings, when we take proper care of our bodies we become naturally resistant to illnesses that surround us everyday. When you have healthy soil, you have healthy plants. And healthy plants=healthy food.💚

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