From the Farmer

Week 20 – 9/28/2016

Looks like rain. This time of year a big rain lights a fire under us to get some of our fall work done. This includes seeding last successions of greens, lettuces, radishes and turnips, and as many of our over-wintering cover crops as we can. Cover crops are soil nourishing crops, and, remembering that a balanced, biologically-active soil is the foundation of all plant (and therefor consumer) health, they play an important role in building and maintaining soil. Cover crops source and cycle nutrients, feed and protect microbes, secrete glues and other compounds that bind and aggregate soil particles, and help sequester carbon. Healthy soil does many things that benefit all of us, including providing digestion of soil nutrients and beneficial compounds for plants, increasing water holding capacity to help us withstand both drought and flood, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, soil husbandry is our best, easiest and most realistic technology for removing carbon from the atmosphere. And making it easier and more economical to grow food and provide livelihoods.

We grow different cover crops for different purposes. For early spring crops we grow radish, oats and peas to grow quickly and cover the soil in fall, die in the cold of winter and decompose early in spring. This lets us work the ground early, or even plant without filling.

We also grow crimson clover and hairy vetch by themselves; these fix nitrogen from the air to feed succeeding plants and they requiring less fertilizer. We can sometimes plant directly into a mulch of hairy vetch, reducing soil disturbance and therefor carbon loss. These are good choices for spring and summer planting, and have pretty flowers, which is of no small import.

In some cases, when we plan to rest soil and don't plant until the following fall or even two springs from now, we seed mixtures of perennial and biennial clovers to smother weeds, provide nitrogen and habitat to beneficial organisms, and alleviate compaction. We may run our meat chickens on these fields to supplement the birds' nutrition and quality of life and to boost fertility, creating a system analogous to a natural ecosystem where animals and plants exist in relationship.

We also like to grow mixtures of cover crops, and may seed five, six, seven, even a dozen species and varieties. Diversity is one of ecology's most basic and immutable ingredients to a healthy system. Growing many kinds of plants together is a little like recreating a meadow or the prairie, which is or was one of the most fecund, self-regulating ecosystems on our planet. These may be my favorite cover crops, so full of yellows reds blues lavenders white browns and greens, insects, birds, fungi, reptiles, amphibians, grasses, legumes, forbs, flowers, that it requires discipline to mow and till them to prepare for cash crops.

That's a long and wonky way of describing what kept me up past two last night before this week's rain. Of all of agriculture's inventions one of the best is putting lights on the front and back of a tractor.

Have a good week of eating and be great,

Mike, Deb, Al, Lex, Anya, Jennifer, James, Christy, Tyler, Kay, Sonya, Julia, Kelly, Bella and Radish, goats x 11, the Willowsford Mudhens, meat chickens in the freezer, Roscoe RIP and Popcorn landing now in the Chatahoochie-Coochie Hills.

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Willowsford Conservancy

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