Healthy living soils
Great crops need great soils. Most of our farm is on silty loam, which is in between sand and clay. Silty loam drains well, but also retains moisture. To maintain soil fertility, we use cover crops, composted manures, crop rotations, and annual fallows.
Cover crops: We grow small grains and grasses (oats, buckwheat, sorghum-Sudan grass, and rye, primarily), and legumes (red clover, peas) for cover crops. Those crops are not grown for harvest, but to be put back in the soil. This increases the organic matter in the soil (and
the legumes feed benefical bactaria that provide nitrogen). Through decomposition of the organic matter, nitrogen will be released to the vegetable crops.
Cover crops also help us in preventing soil erosion. And they tie CO2 from the air into carbon we use to feed the soil organisms, who, in change, feed to plants.
Composted manures: To give the vegetable crop a boost particularly in the early season when the biological soil processes are still ‘warming up’, the composted manures provide some nitrogen and other essential nutrients, as well as organic matter.
Crop rotations: We rotate our crop groups over the farm. They all have different nutrient needs, and by rotating the crops we prevent long-term nutrient deficiencies (which would be hard to fix quickly when using organic growing practices).
Annual fallows: At this time, 1/3 of the tillable acreage on the farm is annual fallow. That means that those soils are not used for vegetable production, but rather grow long term cover crops. As tillage of the soil does to some extent damage the physical soil structure, an annual fallow gives the soils an opportunity to rejuvenate, while the cover crops protect the soils from erosion, and provide a source of organic matter and nitrogen.