Lohbrunner Community Farm: Caring for Soil
Farming is all about the soil. In this quiet time, when the natural cycles tell us it is time to move inwards and downwards, I would like to muse a little on the stewardship of that which is beneath our feet on any farm: soil.
At Lohbrunner Community Farm we are blessed with gorgeous, rich, peaty soil that is incredibly high in organic matter and nutrients. Due to the land’s geological past and current state as a seasonal floodplain frequented in the winter by ducks and geese (which of course bring free manure fertilizer, a boon to any organic farm). This annual flooding does create some serious challenges to market farming here as well, but we do our best to work with the nature of this land.
As farmers and stewards of the land here, the members of the Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op take caring for the soil seriously. This soil is a gift, and history has shown us that those who take it for granted do not fare well in the end, when the soil is tired and has nothing left to give, or is simply eroded away due to poor management practices.
We care for the soil through a few main techniques. One of the most basic practices of good soil management and organic farming, in general, is to rotate crops throughout the fields. This helps keep the soil more balanced and reduces disease and pest build-up. While this sounds simple, it is actually quite complex when you are growing more than forty different crops, and the most popular crops for many markets are skewed heavily towards just two or three of these crop families.
The second main tenant of good soil management our cooperative implements is to keep the soil covered whenever possible. We do this by either growing vegetable crops for market, or by cover cropping (growing crops that will not be harvested and sold at market) whenever possible. This is done when certain areas are fallow, not in crop production for a season, or before, between, or after crops are grown for market. Depending on what is being grown, cover cropping has many benefits including fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil, building or maintaining soil organic matter after tillage, breaking up compacted soil, and protecting soil from erosion due to wind or rain.
We also have a member of our cooperative who has been experimenting for the past year with no-till gardening. This involves never tilling or turning the soil by mechanical or manual means, thereby preserving the natural layers and biological and fungal life in the soil. This is challenging to do on larger-scale farms due to the high amount of labour needed (tractors do a lot of hard work and fast). Since this member is farming on a smaller scale and not growing for market, the results are impressive, especially for being situated on a floodplain.