When we first moved onto our land the dominant terrain was hilly slopes covered with overgrown balsam, spruce and white pine trees with sandy, acidic soil. We looked at it and recognized that it was not a prime agricultural soils location, but with the price being right, we were up for the challenge. Now we sometimes pass a flat open field and remark about how boring it might be to have a farm like that (though it might be more profitable). In the last 3 years we have done a lot of tree clearing and soil improving. We have left the stumps in place, sometimes chipping the branches and using them for mulch, sometimes piling the brush for other uses such as terrace building. Being softwoods, many of the stumps and roots are now starting to break down and become a moisture holding sponge.
All of our gardens have been created using sheet mulching and have since been maintained by hand weeding, replacing mulch and cover cropping, and loosening with a digging fork as needed. One reason we have chosen not to till is to allow the mycelia networks of fungi to flourish with minimal disturbance. Nearly all plants, especially trees have relationships with fungi where they share carbohydrates for access to water and nutrients from a much wider underground network. The lack of soil pulverizing and addition of mulch material really help to nourish this relationship.
We have garden plots in many different locations and all are not created equal. Some areas had better soil conditions to start with, some more dense sod to break down, others more slope. The no-till approach has seemed to work better in some places than others as far as weed suppression, but overall we feel the soil is improving in organic matter and fertility and definitely in its ability to hold water.
This year, we have been learning more about nutrient dense growing and realize that we need to do more amending to our soil to supply all the necessary minerals to the soil life that makes everything grow. We did more in depth soil testing than we have done before this spring, and this fall we plan on trying to balance our soil with all the micro and macro-nutrients we are missing. It will take several years to get many of our depleted minerals to the proper level. Growers who have been practicing nutrient dense growing for many years now report much healthier plants that become indigestible to many insects and diseases. That sounds like a good direction to head. This summer we have been supporting our plants with foliar sprays and drenches made from compost tea, “weed tea” made from nettle, comfrey, horsetail, dandelions, etc., and a liquid calcium supplement. We’ve definitely still had our share of insects and diseases but feel the foliar spraying has helped with plant vitality and reduced blossom end rot. We still have a lot to learn and experiment with, but have hopes that re-mineralizing our soil and building a healthy soil ecosystem will pay off more and more each year.
We were able to attend a one day intensive with Dan Kittredge of the Bionutrient Food Association this past spring and it was mind blowing. He is coming back to Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT to teach again on September 7 for a free introductory class and again for a series of one day intensives October 6 and March 2 . We highly recommend these courses, as they are filled with a lot of in depth information and examples of how soil vitality and balance really dictates plants’ abilities to grow healthy and yield to their full potential.
Poster for the free lecture BFA Craftsbury Common VT Free Intro Lecture SA Sept 7 13 Poster for the series BFA Craftsbury Common VT Workshop Oct 6 2013_Mar 2 2014