How we Farm, Part 3: The Details

How we Farm, Part 3: The Details

8 minute read
published: 12/23/20
written by: Curtis 

This is the third of a four-part series describing the manner in which we farm. 

Part 3: The Details

Every cultural practice (cultivation, trellising, protected culture, fertilization, etc.) affects the Mineral Balance, Soil Biology, and Plant Biome. These are three areas where we as growers must focus our management to produce crops at their fullest genetic potential.

Mineral Balance

Based on soil testing and guidelines, we can directly alter mineral or chemical makeup of soil. In solid or liquified form, we can apply mined & crushed materials or organic products. Ideally, common mineral components come from local waste streams like calcium from egg or oyster shells. While the latest mined materials or Chilean bat gauno may have a good pitch, the sustainability and supply chain of these products is suspect. We can find most major mineral components necessary for life within local waste streams. 

When crushed basalt or lime are in their "raw" form, they are inaccessible to the plant. "Raw" materials for use in soil mineral balancing must first become bio- or plant-available to be of use. This requires the conversion of the mineral into another form like proteins through biological processes. Alchemy? We think so. As soil stewards, our goal is to balance the bio-availability of minerals to ensure our crops and soil biology have an unrestricted yet balanced amount of the mineral components necessary to life.

Curtis spraying tomatoes with a chelated mineral and biological inoculant on a young tomato crop in 2018.

Soil Biology

Soil biology at this time in our industry is not as easily summed up as our soil tests are. The diversity of soil biology and their effect on soil mineral or chemical makeup is simply tremendous. Soil biology drives pH/EH, disease suppressive or enhancing nature of soil, nutrient cycling, and coordinates life with plants. Wow! Without plants, soil biology is missing its primary food source: carbon! Plants supply soil biology with carbon; the soil biology supplies plants with nutrients, but only if they are present in the soil in the first place!

As growers, we can affect soil biology makeup based on the use or absence of "-cides", you know: pest-, insect-, mold-, fung-, rodent-cides, etc. These synthetic or natural "-cides" are suppressive actions that generally don't promote life and diversity. Instead, we work to directly support diversity and abundance of disease suppressive organisms. We can enhance soil biology by always having something green growing; this keeps the carbon food source to biology active. We can promote soil biology through inoculants, cultural practices, and the amendments we use.

Plant Biome

Our crops are (obviously!) plants, which makes them synergists of soil biology as described above. While it may make sense for us to focus on the soil conditions, beyond annual mineral balancing, our focus is on the health and biome of every plant through careful observation. Similar to our own bodies, plants are made up of a diverse range of microbiota that by cell count rival the actual plant cells. Nature is cooperative in this way. These microbiota live both on the outside and inside of plant leaves, stems, fruits, roots.

As growers, our goal is to promote an abundance and diversity of healthy, disease suppressive microbiota on our plant surfaces above and below ground. Foliar sprays of natural materials, soil drenches, and other management/cultural practices all work to suppress or enhance disease that is inherent in our environment. 

Basic Principles

  • Zero synthetic chemicals; always soil-grown and natural materials
  • Always keep soil covered - ideally something green and living; otherwise: natural mulch, compost, or agricultural fabric
  • Healthy plants produce healthy soil - nurture every crop or cover crop with well-timed water, food, and nutritional support using natural materials
  • Minimize soil disturbance - reduce soil inversion & depth of tillage disturbance
  • Celebrate diversity - pests, diseases, weeds; these are our teachers and guides!
  • Adapt - always be nimble

 

Tools, Equipment, and System Highlights

We hope to expand upon this section as we develop our system to meet the scale and context of the farm property. Here is a sneak peek of systems we use:

  • Minimal Tillage
  • Intensive GH Systems
  • Fertility Management
  • Reuseable Systems
  • Standardized Permanent Raised Beds
  • Food Safety Plan

Truck bed full of garden tools and nursery trays of plantstruck bed full of farm tools and nursery plants ready to plant

A Note on Waste

There is a TON of waste in conventional and organic vegetable farming systems. Drip tape, plastic mulch, polystyrene nursery trays, and product packaging all rely on single-use plastics. We’re working towards addressing these concerns and finding alternative products, methods, and systems to reduce waste around the farm.

In the Nursery

Reusable, long-lasting, trays and pots
Post-consumer waste where possible, recyclable types of plastics only

In the Greenhouse

We use:

  • Qlipr trellis system - an innovative system that reduces plastic waste through long-lasting metal design and minimal, reusable plastic twine length. Conventional systems use plastic netting, plastic twine, and other methods that relying on copious disinfectants or high waste
In the Field

No single-use plastic mulch, drip tape, or row cover
We use: 

  • Standardized bed lengths to create standardized field materials
  • Heavy duty reusable, repairable drip tape (in our standard length)
  • Long-lasting, repairable woven landscape fabrics to suppress weeds, keep soil covered, warm soil, and eliminate the need for tillage required for plastic mulch
  • Long-lasting, repairable row cover fabrics for non-pesticide insect control, season extension, and to combat the effects of storm damage
At Market

Reusable bins and containers from harvest until delivery
Combined orders with online shopping vs. individually packaged for market
Customers bring their own bags & boxes to transfer out of our farm containers

 

To be continued!

We've got lots more to come on this topic, but this should get us started. What do you think? Have any questions? We'd love to hear from you, comment below!

 

Our blog series on our farming practices continues with:
Part 4: Good Gardening Practices

Or, if you missed it:
Part 1: The Brief
Part 2: Organic or Other?

 

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