At Nutrient Dense Farm they cover crop to ensure the soil isn’t left bare, build organic matter in the soil, and prepare the beds for next season’s cash crops. Stefan Butler, co-owner and operator says, “To me, cover cropping is bringing up as much diversity as you can.” Currently, they use a variety of annual cover crops like fall rye, buckwheat, and asters. These work well within their crop plan and timing for the end-of-season planting. Planting cover crops in the fall is difficult for many farmers in BC. Butler says, “The seasons are challenging,” because of the quick turnaround from harvesting a cash crop to trying to get a cover crop established before the frost. Butler says, “As far as production fields go, by the end of August, as soon as I crop out and am not using that bed for another crop, I cover crop it.” They often plant winter peas and mustards, cover crops that need to be established in August. By the end of September, Butler was still trying to get cover crops in. “At that point,fall rye and winter triticale are the only options,” says Butler. This year, winter triticale was impossible for them to get because of a seed shortage due to this season’s drought.
To create a harmonious energy exchange where eventually the system will take care of itself, you can’t have bare soil. You need that deep root penetration and that is where cover crops come in.
For Butler, cover cropping is an essential part of their farm. He says, “To create a harmonious energy exchange where eventually the system will take care of itself, you can’t have bare soil. You need that deep root penetration and that is where cover crops come in.” The goal is to develop a crop plan that incorporates perennial cover crops to encourage deeper root penetration through long-term growth. This requires taking a section of land out of production and applying a cover crop that will grow over several years. Butler commented, “The problem is that you need enough access to land to do this, which we are fortunate to have but not everyone does.” This is still the goal for Nutrient Dense Farm. “I think if you have 3 or 4 years to leave a chunk of land fallow, that would be an amazing model,” says Butler.
In addition to utilizing cover crops, they implement several other strategies to improve their soils and balance the ecosystems on and around the farm. Butler says, “Compost is critical.” With the application of compost on their newly established fields, they have balanced their pH levels in the soil. Butler says, “Our pH on some fields started at just under five and with compost, the pH is just under seven.” They have chickens rotating on their non-cropped area, another critical element to building soil health. They have plans to expand their livestock to include larger herbivores to rotate on the land. Butler says, “For us, having as many animals as possible rotating through the fields and as well as having the right plants growing is critical.”
Nutrient Dense Farm aspires to be a biodynamic farm with methods that change over time and with the land. As they continue to farm in Squamish and witness the land changing, they will adapt their approach to suit both their farming needs and the needs of the land’s delicate ecosystems. Butler observed, “This system is as good as we can do right now but I want to take it further,” and aspires to implement a more substantial cover cropping plan with integrated livestock.