Another Milestone

Another Milestone

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

We Have Officially Broken Ground...and then some

The picture above of Sean beginning the official tilling a couple of months ago marked the beginning of official cultivation on the property.  The area he's in is The Playground, as it is attached to a local school and has been treated as part of their property for quite a while.  It's the only fully clear area on the property as it's been consistently mown for at least 70 years. This area will be dedicated mainly to floral crops and sun-loving perennials, like this baptisia that has already begun blooming.

Multiple small yellow flowers with pink/purple shading

We've done quite a bit since making the first beds in late February.  We've completed almost all the beds for the rest of the year in The Playground, as well as making some further down under the forest canopy.  Completing a bed (100' x 3') takes about a  day's worth of labor, even longer in the forest as there are roots to deal with. 

Fortunately we won't be repeating this work every season, or even every year.  Part of our goal is to do no-till (or at least minimal-till) cultivation.  That is, instead of turning up all the soil between crops, we will only disturb as much as is necessary to add nutrients and plant the next batch.

If we tilled and rebuilt beds every year, the soil biome would never stabilize.  Even under the monoculture of grass in the Playground we have a very good, living soil.  It's full of healthy microbes, worms, and down in the forest, we even have full layers of fungal mycorrhizae layers working in symbiosis with the trees.  Just regularly driving on the soil with heavy equipment will compact the soil enough that a hard deadzone develops that takes years to recover.  Cutting all that up with a tiller or a disc dragged behind a tractor will eventually kill the soil completely.  

Heavy tilling also lets nitrogen escape into the air and encourages loss of nutrients from the soil by letting the rain wash them away more quickly.  Over time you lose everything that makes a soil good, and it will eventually erode away.

Instead, we'll put mulch and nitrogen-fixing clover into the aisles between the beds to mature while the crops grow, then move it up as a bed dressing during planting.  The primary source of the mulch will be wood-chips and leaf litter from the forest itself.  We're trying to keep our ecosystem as circular as possible, adding external inputs only when truly required. 

Amanda and I have used this system in our home garden with very good results.  The soil at our house was a washed out, worn down yellow clay that wouldn't sustain even a consistent layer of weeds.  Now it is a dark, tilthy brown/black with lots of organic and very good growing characteristics.

The soil at the farm doesn't need as much rehabilitation as our home garden did.  Even so, at some point the soil was abused.  Our local USDA forester believes it was under cotton until the middle of the last century.  And while the trees have grown back on the areas that were clear cut, we get enough rain that erosion has kept the soil from recovering completely.  The organic layer at the top is only a couple of inches deep.  Once we get going we should be adding about a half inch per year to that.

We won't produce as much per square foot as we could using high-intensity industrial methods.  But we won't need lots of external chemical inputs to keep things growing, and most importantly, we will leave the soil healthier than it already is.

Nearly finished beds in the Playground.  Amanda works in the mid-distance.  The forest behind is filling in with spring leaves, and a greenhouse nestles just in view.  Fencing lays ready to be installed.

Bill G
Wednesday, May 3, 2023
Wow, I had no idea. Excellent post!