For the last 8 years, growing pasture as the basis of fertility at Eatwell Farm has been my goal. I would now go as far as saying, if I concentrate on the pasture then the vegetables grow themselves. That statement has seen my journey in organic agriculture in the last 36 years, and yes it has been that long, make great strides.
It all started out with lots of compost and manure. Stinky, and hard work to spread. Some crops needed more nutrients than the compost could supply, so we had to use pelletized chicken manure or guano from Chile. We are getting ready to plant peppers here in ten days and 'normally' we would add extra applications of compost plus bags of organic materials. Basically, we would be replacing chemical fertilizers with their organic equivalents. This is how corporate organic has succeeded, because it is really not that difficult.
Back in the pasture....my grandfather always knew to grow a pasture before a cash crop, where he needed as much fertility as possible. There are some great books on this, 'Fertility Pastures’ by Newman Turner from the 1940s. The big change has come about because of the work of a group of soil scientists, almost all ladies, over the last 40 years. With modern microscopes, and some now less than $500, you can observe the soil microfauna and learn what to do to grow your own fertility.
In 1990, I came to California for the first time and attended a couple of farming conferences. I heard Elaine Ingram speak. She said she was starting to understand the incredibly complex life in the soil. Jump forwards to spring two years ago and our Lorraine attended a week long class on soil biology. I have been watching and learning on YouTube. It has been fascinating with Jose and I experimenting and observing in the field all the time.
Basically, the plant exudes sugars, proteins and carbohydrates, particularly when they are impacted by grazing whether that is a bison on the plains, wilder beasts in Africa or my mower. The grazing shock needs to be short, the animals are moved on by predators. The plants exude their stuff, the soil bacteria and fungi grow like crazy. They feed the next level which poop out nutrients right next to the plant roots. One big circle of growth, which the farmer needs to keep moving at a pace. We have built soil at an astonishing rate over the years. There is much more to this, particularly adding a great variety to the pasture.
Look for videos on YouTube by Gabe Brown, Elaine Ingham, Allan Savory and more.