Martin and Jonathan Rothe Farm

Posted on Monday, 9 August 2021 under Supporting Farmers and Ranchers Featured Farmers

Martin Rothe has been farming biodynamically for forty years, running several orchards over the decades. He now manages 12 acres at Rothe Farm in Oliver. Of that, there are four and a half acres in production of apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and one acre of cherries off location. The orchard’s soil is rich in nutrients thanks to the biodynamic practices that Rothe adopts. “You’re trying to create a biodiverse environment on and around your farm,” he says.

The biggest initiative on their farm is their compost operation. Fruit waste from the orchard and surrounding orchards is dumped strategically in piles to be composted. It is mixed with chicken, cow, horse, and mushroom manure as well as dry debris like straw and decaying plant material. Once the compost is ready for use, it is screened for rocks and spread under the orchard trees. This initiative closes the waste loop on Rothe’s orchard and ensures he knows exactly what is going back into his soil, reduces waste coming off of his farm, and eliminates the need to truck in enough compost for the entire orchard. This is an important initiative for Rothe because compost creates hummus, which is a key contributor to soil regeneration. He says, “Soil needs constant regeneration and the way to do that is to continue to surround the trees with farm-made compost that replenishes and builds up the soil.” Rothe says, “Running a composting system on the farm is a huge job, almost as much as running a whole orchard.”

Increasing the presence of wildlife and natural plant species around the orchard is an important aspect of biodynamics and climate-friendly farming. Over the decades, the Rothes continue to plant hedgerows and buffers around the orchard. A mix of fir, pine, elm, hazelnut, acacia and walnut trees, and several varieties of native shrubs line the edge of the farm where it begins to slope. These plantings hold the bank up where there should have been severe erosion and actively provide nutritious food for wildlife. Below these buffers is a wildlife pond that Rothe put in place as habitat for the surrounding wildlife. Beneficial birds and insects thrive in the pond, ultimately benefiting the orchard by preying on pests and by pollinating crops. In addition to these initiatives, Rothe has over thirty beehives brought onto his property yearly to increase pollinator activity on the farm.

Rothe stopped cover cropping in between his rows years ago because he already sees such a diverse mix of plant species and grasses that are well established. He cultivates as little around the trees as possible, leaving much of the activity in the soil undisturbed. In between the rows of fruit trees, there is a long-standing mix of clover, orchard grass, and fescue grass.

Rothe stays away from chemical pesticides and herbicides. He relies on the natural cycles of his farm to balance out pest and weed pressure and has several methods to draw on when needed. The farm grows tobacco to be used as a natural pesticide for the trees that have pest pressure. Rothe explains, “You put the tobacco into a pail, leave it until it turns a dark brown, dilute it with 50% water, and create a tea. Then, you spray it in the spring when you see aphids on trees that have infestations.” To help his trees with weed pressure and water retention, he covers the base with a thick layer of mulch. This keeps weeds and grasses away from the base of the trees and protects the soil from hot summer temperatures which keeps it moist for longer. Adopting natural methods of dealing with weeds and pests reduces the use of chemical sprays that are released into the atmosphere as a toxin when used.

The principles of biodynamics put nature first. Biodynamic farming can be applied to any sector of agriculture and significantly reduce negative impact on the environment and climate. Through these practices, Rothe creates a space where he can grow food and foster habitat and space for other living organisms. Rothe says, “If you want a space that has a little bit of everything, that’s what we do here and that’s the base of biodynamics.” At Rothe Farm, they continue to put the natural landscape first, knowing that it will benefit the health of their farm and community.