p40 emb

edible Monterey Bay Winter 2016

One assignment took him to Montana to fight a plague of grasshoppers in the vast northern wheat fields. “I got there and said, ‘You’re so lucky!’ because that’s my answer to everything,” he recalls. “ey thought I must be crazy, but I said ‘No, no, no. is is a massive resource that’s come to your property, and you didn’t even ask for it.’” Blume asked the farmers to use their bulldozers to build some ponds and fill them with water. en they took weather balloons, spray painted them bright yellow and placed one in the middle of each pond. “is was the only colorful thing for 40 miles, and the grasshoppers thought it was a flower and came in hordes,” he explains. “ey bounced off the balloons and ended up in the drink.” So the farmers started scooping tons and tons of dead grasshoppers out of the ponds to spread on their land, gaining enough fertility to last for 50 years. “ey turned a disaster into the biggest fertilizer bonanza ever,” he recalls. “at’s what I do. I look at where there’s a surplus and figure out how to use that surplus.” TROPICAL CROPS Out in the greenhouses, many of Blume’s theories are put into practice. For example, plastic hoses run through a giant 25-foot-long compost pile and then out into the beds, where they are spaced every four feet. Water is pumped through the system and, as it passes through the compost, gets heated from the natural decomposition happening in the compost. en in turn, it warms up the soil to tropical temperatures and helps keep the greenhouse toasty. Other innovations include an anaerobic methane digester to recycle gases given off in the distillation process; an aerobic nitrogen digester for managing runoff; and fish ponds to produce fertilizer. Using these methods, Whiskey Hill is growing 15 tons of Hawaiian ginger and galangal, as well as a massive crop of 150 tons of turmeric—a rhizome that is commonly used in Indian curries and offers strong antiinflammatory 38 edible MONTEREY BAY WINTER 2016 properties. “It’s extremely popular and, unlike fads, this stuff actually works medically,” says Blume. (See sidebar page 37.) Other crops currently under cultivation include Persian cucumbers, melons, Osaka purple mustard, sweet Japanese turnips and a wide variety of herbs, including tarragon, dill, basil and cilantro. In order to optimize space, a high priority is given to exotic vining plants that grow upwards, allowing turmeric and other crops to be cultivated underneath. Experiments are underway with sacha inchi, an Amazonian nut that grows on vines. “It’s quite profitable, very tasty and makes an incredible cooking oil,” he says. To keep bugs at bay, Blume uses what he affectionately calls “the night crew,” a platoon of frogs, toads and lizards. “Farmers have way too much work to do, and fighting the bugs is a time consuming effort if you don’t have nature taking care of it for you,” he maintains. To keep the night crew happy, there are several “frog condominiums” in each greenhouse. e condos are basically a pile of big rocks inside a wire cage, with an algae-filled pond nearby. Ever the evangelist for his twin passions of regenerative agriculture and “the world’s second oldest profession,” Blume enjoys giving tours to visiting farmers and the general public. During the Corralitos Open Farms Tours last fall, his eyes twinkled as he ignited two identical bowls of clear liquid sitting side by side in the lab. On the right, the bowl filled with gasoline gave off a big smoky yellow flame, while the bowl on the left filled with alcohol burned cleanly, with a small blue flame and no trace of soot—demonstrating that alcohol is the perfect fuel and reminding us that sometimes we have to look to the past to find our way to a better future. Deborah Luhrman is deputy editor of Edible Monterey Bay and editor of our weekly newsletter. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Whiskey Hill Farms 371 Calabasas Road, Watsonville 831.722.4455 • www.whiskeyhillfarms.com


edible Monterey Bay Winter 2016
To see the actual publication please follow the link above