2021-02SFC  Edible Austin Leaderboard

A Fertile Solution

Photography of pepper grown with new fertilization program by Carina Stufflebeam

In the eight years that Brad Stufflebeam has operated Home Sweet Farm in Brenham, he’s tried many different methods of irrigating and nourishing the 22 acres as organically and sustainably as possible. Some methods worked better than others, but he may have come across the perfect solution with a new powerhouse triumvirate in the form of an 1,800-gallon brew tank, an irrigation pump and a recipe for an all-natural fertilizer.

Initially, Home Sweet Farm relied solely on low-volume T-Tape as a means of drip irrigation. “Although [T-Tape] is a more water-conserving method,” Stufflebeam says, “the increased labor to install—and especially to remove—the tape was a burdensome task, leaving us with five miles of plastic trash leftover at the end of each season…which no one recycles.” Next, he tried multiple fertilizer injectors, which delivered regulated portions of fertilizer into the irrigation system via the T-Tape. But the injectors were designed for chemical fertilizers and couldn’t handle the organic material in Stufflebeam’s earth-friendly mix.

He also experimented with foliar feeding—a method of applying fertilizer directly to plants. But it was soon discovered that these applications only increased labor and fuel costs and often fell to the wayside during the busy harvest season when time and energy are short. During the drought of 2010—out of necessity to decrease waste and labor load—Stufflebeam decided to try overhead irrigation. This method allowed him to water cover-crop rotations between seasons without having to pull up miles of T-Tape. However, he still needed a means of distributing the aforementioned organic amendments without clogging equipment or creating extra maintenance requirements.

The solution was a combination of the overhead irrigation system and the new 1,800-gallon tank. This allows Stufflebeam to premix his organic fertilizer blend with well water or rainwater and then send it out to the fields using the irrigation pipes and pump. The crops are nourished each time they are watered and, by adding neem oil or Spinosad (a natural insecticide) to the solution, most insects are repelled.

“By using our new brew tank,” explains Stufflebeam, “we have bypassed the need for high-maintenance sprayers and injectors—creating a more convenient way to apply high-quality organic amendments to our soil. Pest problems are down and yields have increased by providing a more consistent feeding program.”—Veronica Meewes

Home Sweet Farm
7800 FM 2502, Brenham