There is a lot of talk about sustainable farming. When we took over stewardship of this farm it was already degraded from it’s original, natural state. My goal was never to keep it in that state but to restore it. It took a while to figure out the right way to do this. We used many truck loads of food waste compost from San Francisco. This is full of fertility and biological life, so important to kick start the life back in the soil. I firmly believe that small but continuous applications of good quality compost gradually stoke the biological fire of life in the soil. You cannot just buy a massive amount of compost, dump it on the soil ,and then expect it to burst into life. It is like making a fire, you start with kindling and gradually add larger and more logs until you really do have a roaring fire.
We now no longer need to add more compost each year as we have developed a rotation that continues to build the fertility of the soil. Each year we plant one third of our vegetable area, 20 acres, to pasture. Over the next year, the chickens and sheep graze it. Their droppings add fertility and the clovers fix nitrogen from the air.
As the grasses and clovers grow, we with graze them or mow them. They then send a flood of root exudates out into the soil to feed the fungi and bacteria that we have encouraged with the compost applications. These fungi and bacteria are in turn food for other soil organisms such as nematodes and protozoa. They excrete plant available nutrients which provide more fertility to grow more pasture or the following crops that we plant after the pasture.
It is a virtuous circle of life. I find it all very exciting and fascinating. We now no longer buy in any organic fertilizers and we have fewer and fewer pest problems. I put this down to the amazing job that the chickens do searching for bugs in the pasture.
We have now almost completed two rotations, and the crops are getting better every year.
Want to learn more? Come to the planting day this Saturday, October 11th. You can find the details and purchase tickets at www.eatwell.com/events. Eatwell Farm CSA Members get a special discount. Check your newsletters for the code, or write an email to Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the code.