The Crop Report: Week 9 | Creating Healthy Soil
- Mar 04, 2021
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This week we saved the planet! Ok, maybe I get a bit dramatic. But, as keepers of our small corner of the world, we are doing our part to make sure our Earth is taken care of for future generations. For us, farming is more than just cranking out flowers. The way that we grow will affect the way this land produces beyond our lifetime, and it's our loyalty to the land that keeps us looking for better ways to do what we need in a wholesome manner.
Modern farming isn’t always about ground-breaking discoveries. It’s funny, the history or soil culture tells a story of agricultural practices that took me a while to really understand. When I was a kid I watched dad scrape out the barnyard to piles that he later spread on the fields, greening up the grass for the sheep to graze. I saw the full cycle, not really understanding how we were holistically adding nutrients back into the earth. It’s actually been a documented practice by Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. Not that compost was presidentially trendy, but manure from the carriage horses was linked to growing the best vegetables in all the land. Fun fact: back then, horticulturists were celebrities known for their arrogance. Oh, how the times have changed.
We started the week by tackling the big task of adding fresh compost and amendments to a few of our tunnel beds that will be home to this year's lisianthus crop. While the addition of compost is important for helping us correct the soil structure of our beds, it’s vital to know what you are working with before you try to enrich your soil. Every other year, we test our soil, sending off samples for lab analysis on where we stand, and we plan our amendments based on what the soil is missing, or has too much of. The soil at the farm has always been close to perfect (lucky us), so these beds just needed some compost to compete with our compaction issues from when these houses were first built.
While we do generate our own compost, the amount that we can produce in a year is minimal to what we need to balance out our growing areas. So, we shop locally. This year, we are trying a new compost blend that was created includes charcoal that was used to filter sugarcane and then added to an animal-generated base. The minerals from the sugar cane are absorbed by the charcoal, giving the soil extra vitamins. HOW cool. This stuff looks awesome and has been proven successful by some local produce growers near us. Seriously, you should see the broccoli!
Charcoal is an interesting component of compost. Upon further research, I learned that it provided more long-term soil structure benefits than when exclusively using animal-produced compost. What's even cooler, is that charcoal actually absorbs carbon in the air, significantly reducing our carbon footprint! It is one of the few ways we can correct some of our carbon-focused environmental issues on the farm, and if it saves the planet, I’m so here for it.
When we began to loosen the bed soil to incorporate our new compost, I noticed a lack of worms. This is a huge red flag because worms are a great indicator of well-balanced soil. They thrive in good conditions and are often missing when the ground conditions aren’t quite right. The populations were thriving in other houses and fields, but their lack of habitat in these beds meant the compost was very much needed. After a good run with the broadfork, we added layer after layer of our new black gold compost. Densely covering the 4x90 foot beds requires a lot of heavy lifting, and I couldn’t be more grateful that we had new crew members just in time to knock out this laborious job.
Covered in what looks like black soot, we finally found the bottom of the trailer and the bed of the truck. I did get the truck stuck though - remember all that mud I griped about a few weeks back? Well, it’s still here and now my husband's truck is a semi-permanent lawn ornament outside tunnels 5 and 6. Maybe by the end of this week it will dry out enough that we can unstuck the truck. I'm hoping that’s the case and so is he. I also need it to dry out enough that we can put the final till on the beds to better incorporate the new compost. Once that is done, they can be smoothed out with a rake and recovered for planting.
The lisianthus are here and have been moved up to larger-sized trays so that they keep growing strong roots while we hustle on these last few tasks of bed prep. Once we can get them in the ground, I expect this will be one of our better years with the lisianthus crop which excites us all.
Knowing our soil and how to keep it healthy, rotate our crops, and removing nutrient buildup is all about stewardship of the land. We take pride in being able to care for it in a way that adds value for future generations. The earth belongs to everyone and we’re committed to making sure we leave it in better shape than we found it.