tea time

Coree says…

At our business meeting last week, the issue of soil fertility was raised, and I think it’s a pretty important and interesting thing to talk about. As usual, we circled around the topic in the midst of a circus of wonderful children and food and other things to think and say, but I’m hoping we can all say a little more.

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We all agreed, it can be challenging to get a hold of enough composted manure in one season to really make things sing. I’d like to know what other fertility measures you’ve used, in the short and long term, to keep your very productive gardens afloat. Do you manure in the Spring or Fall? Sheet compost, or side dress, or both?

compost pile

As for us, having very limited space and very few animals, we have relied heavily on cover cropping. It’s been great, but if we really do it well, we end up sacrificing the early gardens. Thus, you two have started your CSA deliveries a full two weeks before us.

In the past couple years, my Fellow Man has studied the works of Hugh Lovel (Quantum Agriculture) and William Albrecht and taken on the work of deeper soil analysis and mineral balancing. It’s rather expensive, and not without risk, so we’ve gone slow, but even with that, we’ve seen noticeable results. We feel like pest issues have slightly decreased, and soil that has always been HARD has become softer, nicer to work, and more reliably productive.

For shorter term help, we also believe in the value of compost tea, ala Dr. Elaine Ingam (Soil Food Web, Rodale Institute). It involves a contraption to bubble the ‘tea’ for awhile,but the resulting brew smells nice and we feel good about it. When there’s no time for that, we use Neptune’s Harvest and pray for the best.

Tell me about your good dirt, friends!

Robin offers: it seems difficult really to find the balance with fertility, with perfectly aged manure based compost being our first choice, we always run out! our current fertility project is swine based. we have recently reintroduced hogs to the farm and this time around we have them in a larger covered space and are using deep litter in an effort to harvest their manure for compost.  in the few months that we have had them, in addition to the challenge of building their housing, we have cleaned their first pen once and have an enormous pile to show for it. right now, we are encouraged by the possibilities and are enjoying them along with our other on farm manure producers: sheep, cows, horses and earl the donkey!we have also been experimenting with nettle teas (both fresh and fermented) as foliar feeds. again seeing positive results, we have had some good success diversifying our on farm options.

photo-002Cher adds… Well, thank goodness for neighbors with a crazy number of horses because that’s where all of our off-farm compost comes from. We would love to make all of our own high-quality biodynamic compost from all of our critters here on the farm (and there are starting to be a lot of them) but the scale of our vegetable operation exceeds our ability to keep up with making all of the necessary compost. Plus, our cows, sheep, and chickens are managed on a pretty intense pasture rotation and all of their manure goes to feed the pastures. In the gardens, we do rely on cover-cropping quite a bit. And we use a lot of mulch, which as it decomposes does add fertility to the soil. In the fall, we normally try to prepare a few garden spots specifically for spring planting (no cover crop because of what you said, Coree) and that is when we will add compost to those areas. Because we are growing such a diverse number of crops, it takes quite a juggling act to keep it all straight. Thank goodness for Eric. He can remember things that happened more than one day ago (I’m really trying, I promise) so he has the knack for keeping our garden’s fertility program rolling right along.

One thought on “tea time

  1. Cher is correct in that most of our fertility up until recently came from a neighboring horse farm but that is starting to not be so. My ultimate fertility plan, which is proving to be the most sustainable and effective, is to include future garden spots in my intensive livestock grazing program. I have found that it takes way too much effort, frustration, and expense to balance the fertility of the soil with soil tests, composting, spreading, guessing, hoping, begging… All the world’s best soils aside from glaciated, volcanic, and alluvial are built by large herds of migrating herbivores. We can simulate this very well with portable electric fencing on our farms. At least 3 years in managed pasture before growing a garden. You’ll be amazed at the lack of weeds, pests, and diseases. If you have the space to rotate like this, give it a try!

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