I am living in Trinidad this summer and writing a book, probably to be self published, about my experiences and conclusions growing food in Lake County for the last 26 years. It will also include input from other local farmers and consumer activists hoping to shed some light on how to grow local production for local consumption.
After talking about our crop rotation as the foundation for our sustainable fertility, I forgot to state for the record that we do not use any synthetic fertilizers or other soil amendments not listed with either the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) or the Washington State Organic Program. Since the word ‘organic’ is no longer part of the commons, but is now the legal property of the USDA, we choose to describe our growing practices as “biological” since our farm depends on natural biological processes. This applies to our food and feed grown for local consumption. We still produce certified organic wine grapes which are largely made into wine for national distribution.
The next thing you may be wondering about how we at Clover Creek grow your local food is how we manage damaging insects and diseases without harmful pesticides and fungicides. The key practice that we follow is called biodiversity. The idea here is that any ecosystem can achieve a stable, dynamic state of balance only when it includes sufficient diversity of microorganisms, plants and animals. In human biology the related concept would be homeostasis, the healthy balance that results from all organs and systems of the body working together. When the ecosystem of the farm is in balance predators and prey are happily eating and being eaten, soil bacteria and fungi are living and dying as organic matter decomposes, and there is peace between the farmer and her husband. The greater the diversity of farm flora and fauna, the greater the capacity for the ecosystem to buffer change and prevent the extremes of runaway insect populations and excessive disease pressure. Sometimes the weather conspires to throw the farm out of balance and we have to as a last resort introduce a control material into the ecosystem. This happens very infrequently because of our biodiversity’s self correcting power. But when pesticides or fungicides are needed we only use one’s approved for organic production. These materials are listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) after verifying that they will do no lasting damage to the ecosystem. We will address weed control and herbicides in a separate post.
There are many ways in which we promote biodiversity on our farm. By adding compost and animal manures we inoculate the soil with thousands of different species of bacteria and fungi. Growing cover crops and incorporating the dead plant material into the soil provides the carbon needed for healthy populations of soil microorganisms. Rotating our crops from one field to another also helps support biodiversity. Limiting the size of any one crop helps maintain predator / prey balance. We attempt to do the opposite of “mono cropping” which characterizes agribusiness production. We maintain hedgerows and other plantings, both annual and perennial to feed beneficial insect populations. A weed has been described as a plant growing in the wrong place. We cultivate weeds in the crops and leave them alone to contribute to biodiversity surrounding the fields.
We achieve our goal of sustainable fertility through crop rotation beginning with a legume rich fallow year when sunlight and carbon dioxide are converted into biomass. Our legume of choice best suited for our bio-region’s climate is vetch along with a small amount of clover. Planted in the fall and irrigated with the winter rains, this cover crop of legumes is allowed to grow well into the summer. It is mowed multiple times to stimulate growth and maximize the fertility potential of the crop. Depending on the planting schedule, winter or spring, the organic matter is cultivated into the soil and begins it’s breakdown into useable fertility for the next crop, usually a grain such as wheat or oats. In year two the grain is grown and harvested. In year three an edible legume such as dry beans is grown during the summer. This crop acts as a catch crop using up the left over fertility after grain production. After bean, lentil or pea harvest in late summer, a legume cover crop of vetch and clover is again planted in the fall beginning the rotation all over again. This is a brief overview of our fertility management program. If you, the local consumer of our crops, have further questions on fertility please send them to <email@example.com>.