Insects and Life

Crane Fly living in our hoop house, late fall 2019.

This little guy, identified by the NCSU Extension agents as a crane fly, has a lot of friends living in our hoop house right now. Frequently, when a farmer talks about insects, we expect them to be referring to a pest or problem. A fun fact I learned at a Xerces society beneficial insect class last year is that only 2% of insects are considered agricultural pests… That’s right, when broad spectrum insecticides are applied to the land, 98% of the insects destroyed were not pests, but potential beneficial insects. That level of ‘collateral damage’ is unacceptable.

Our little friend above, the Crane fly, is one of those not considered to be a pest, though its larvae may chew on your production plant’s roots a little here and there, mostly they just consume decaying organic matter in overly wet conditions, so this little fly actually can act as an indicator for me, letting me know when I’ve been watering my hoop house too much!

Chief Seattle said that we are part of the web of life, and what we do to the web, we do to ourselves. Our over use of pesticides is coming back to haunt us, not only through the toxic effects on our bodies, but through the destruction of insects which are at the base of a complex ecological dependence–of which we are a part. Here are two recent articles worth taking the time to read more about the urgent need to remove toxins from agricultural practices:

From the Ecological Farming Association

And from the Guardian

Carbon Sequestration and Climate

The Holocene is coming to an end. In general, we as a species have not been good stewards of the land. It’s so powerful and moving to see so many passionate people acknowledging the reality of climate change, and finding ways to combat it on a personal level since many of the governments around the globe are not acting fast enough, if at all.

The consequences of the convenience oriented, disposable mindset I grew up in are a large part of why we chose to start a farm with a sustainability focus, and why we work so hard to sequester as much carbon as we can through our farming practices, while producing clean electricity at the farm via photovoltaics, and using locally made biodiesel in our truck. It’s easy to get depressed by current administration of the USA and it’s rejection of scientific fact/lack of action, so I wanted to put together some links of active heroes and champions of ecological preservation and climate change activism just in case you weren’t aware of them.

We all have a part to play in reducing our ecological foot prints, from the now amazingly easy step of buying 100% renewable electricity thanks to the likes of to using locally made biofuel in your car, walking or biking when you can, eating organic, and avoiding the purchase of anything ANYTHING made of plastic! These may seem like little things on an individual level, but collectively, they make a big impact.

Below are links to some of my personal heroes speaking out in support of ecological sustainability and in some cases, encouraging the radical change we so desperately need. I hope these videos inspire you to action and renew your commitment to doing all you can for the future of life on this planet.

Farm Subsidies

A new report concludes that farm subsidies result in farming practices that cause more damage to the land than the value of the food produced.

There’s an answer to this, human-scale, no-till, regenerative agriculture. Now before you say anything crazy like, ‘we can’t produce enough food without chemicals and artificial fertilizer to support our current population…damn hippie!’ I suggest you spend some time on where they have 35 years of research showing organic, regenerative agriculture is more productive than ‘conventional’ (also, birth control works)… Regardless, until the steel, mouldboard plough was invented in the 1800’s, agriculture was a human-scale, no-till enterprise. For at least the 10,000 years before the plough, humans were able to grow food without a negative energy balance.

Today, we use more than 10 times the energy contained in the food we produce. That’s right, if the food on your plate holds 10 jouls of energy available to nourish your body, we consumed more than 100 joules of energy to get it there on your plate.

The energy balance doesn’t add up. Imagine if a bobcat used 10 joules of energy to catch a mouse that only gave it 1 joul of energy in nourishment…how long would that bobcat survive?


Thanks to fossil fuel, we’re living on borrowed time, letting the stored energy in coal/oil/gas ‘make our life easier’, but it’s not sustainable, and we have to make a change. Professional market gardeners are making a living off 1/4 acre. How much food could you grow in your yard?

You Too Can Grow Your Own Food…

…and the farmers on youtube that helped me find my way.

I tend to be a little more extreme in some areas of our farm with drastically small amounts of soil disturbance. Flipping beds by cutting out old plants to leave entire former root systems in tact for increased soil carbon and biological activity, minimal use of flame weeding if ever depending on location (weed seed eating beetles live in the top 1/4 inch of your soil!…I’ve even seen cooked earth worms as a result of a quick flame weed). Perhaps not practical on a larger scale, but works great for our 30×70 (~2000 sq foot) hoop house.

Beneficial insect attracting cover crop at the PCE.Farm in Summer, 2019. Sunflowers, buckwheat, clover, rye, and glass gem corn.

If you’re thinking about starting a small production farm, best advice I can give you is to make the time to volunteer or intern on another farm for a full year before making the jump. There are loads of small farms who need the labor, likely right in your region, and if you have the time to go big, check out how to woof ( ) and go anywhere. After that, consider renting land before purchasing so you can learn the value of good neighbors, how micro climates can impact your production, and avoid land where the creek is the property boarder–your neighbors can change and some are better than others…

Of almost everything I’ve done in nearly 50 years on this planet, nothing so far has given me more satisfaction than growing, cooking, and enjoying food with friends grown in my own garden. The crazy thing is, anyone can do this, and ‘back in the day’ everyone did.

You don’t need a huge farm, a greenhouse, animals, or even a tiller. Modern no-till techniques popularized in the mid-20th century by Ruth Stout’s books and now, with a more production-oriented mind set by the youtubers listed here–folks are not only feeding themselves, but making a decent living or supplementing their household income on very small plots of land.

You can literally put down a 10×10 tarp in your back yard’s sunny spot in February, pull it off 4 to six weeks later depending on your hardiness zone ( ), add a 4″ compost layer, plant your favorite seeds right into compost, keep it watered and Voila, you have a garden! Yes you will have weeds the first year you have to stay on top of, but repeating the tarping technique and never letting a weed stay in your garden will resolve this issue after a few years.

Do it. Grow your food. Eat less meat. Make a difference for this planet we’re stressing to the breaking point. It is that easy. You are powerful and you can change the world for the better.

These are the farmers on youtube I’ve learned the most from, many of them with concise, information packed, practical videos. Sometimes, seeing a technique demonstrated once can make all the difference.

I’ve learned so much from these guys…big thanks to you all!

  • Jean-Martin Fortier:
    This dude is seriously inspiring… (he’s not a very active youtube guy, but reading about him, his first small 1.5 acre farm and his newer ‘ferm de quatre temps’ (four season farm) that’s 10 acres is pretty cool.
  • Curtis Stone ‘the urban farmer’
    This is the guy is a prolific youtuber and really shows it all, what works and what doesn’t… has great, short, practical videos on how to setup, organize, harvest, plant etc… very much geared toward making a living off of small, urban acreage with a fast paced production mindset. Though he seems to have moved away from production farming for a living, his older videos are still quite valuable.
  • Richard Perkins of Rigedale Permaculture:
    He’s the Brit that lives in Switzerland and does a lot of poultry/egg/silvopasture (pigs/cows) as well as a growing no-dig market garden in a demanding climate…on track to pay off his farm in 5 years from farm generated income.  His videos are sometimes rambling and philosophical, with some serious gems of practical ingenuity tucked in there.  More of a wholistic big picture guy with loads of permaculture implementations within his animal systems and ‘key line design’ to move water through his site on a large scale increasing abundance and mediating extremes of drought/flood conditions.
  • Connor Crickmore of Neversink Farm:
    A former computer engineer from NYC. This dude is an efficiency master and runs his farm like a serious business.  He’s invented and now sells several practical tools.  Another no-tractor farm (actually all of these guys are for the most part, zero/minimal machinery farms).  Another guy with short, practical, information packed videos (without the clickbait feel of Curtis Stone’s videos).  Again, a professional production oriented approach to commercial farming.
  • Charles Dowding:
    I love watching Charles’ videos. His approach seems to be less high-power commercial production and more happy (and beautiful) homestead farming, though he does sell quite a lot of produce from his small farm.  His calming presence and relaxed tone are inspirational coming out of an operation that’s so organized, clean, and productive. Charles truly is something of a Guru in the no-dig arena.
  • Farmer Jessee:
    In the early days, a bit rough around the edges but another serious production farmer who has discovered the amazing power of no-till farming. He’s also got a no-till podcast that has evolved into a remarkably valuable resource, and a new book I’m reading now,
  • Farmer Pete:
    And lastly, our own little corner of the youtube space where I share the most useful ‘lightbulb moments’ tips, techniques, and philosophies employed at the PCEFarm.

All of them are ‘feet on the ground’ farmers and with the exception of Fortier and Stone, have already or seem to be moving toward no till/no dig, intensive farming.