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No-till according to Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 July Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson

Ricky showing off one of his dibble tools

Ricky Baruc is the head farmer at Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange, MA where he lives with his wife Deb Habib and son Levi. Jack and I have known Ricky, and Deb before him, since the 80s. We are lucky to live only about ½ hour away from them. Here is a nice overview of the farm taken from their website:

Seeds of Solidarity Farm was initiated in 1996, on land in the middle of the forest that had not been cultivated for many years, and the original inhabitants of the region being the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Pequoit people. A conservation restriction on our 30 acres ensures the land will always be used for agriculture, education, and wildlife habitat. With nature as teacher, the land has been transformed into fertile fields and hosts five solar hoophouses brimming with our signature greens, fruit and perennial crops, garlic and sacred, traditional crops such as Hopi blue and Narraganset flour corn. The tapestry of our site includes energy efficient and off the grid home, office, and farm outbuildings, including Solidarity Handworks, a solar powered farmstand, and celebration art and words of inspiration along the paths.

With the growth in people wanting local food, we ask, ‘How can more people participate not only as consumers, but producers?’ To build local food self-reliance, we need accessible, affordable and yes, fun practices that mimic nature, help decentralize food production and engage more people in cultivating the earth in order to Grow Food Everywhere. We use cardboard on marginal land to foster worms, microbes and mychorrizal fungi that decompose the cardboard and build a fertile soil ecosystem. In addition to an increase in worm castings (poop), using cardboard as mulch helps balance moisture, keep weeds down, and create no-till carbon sinks that retain rather than release CO2 into the atmosphere. Cardboard – a waste product available in most communities – is key to growing gardens on lawns, lots, schoolyards, and municipal buildings for opening up and improving plots of land.

Here is Ricky’s take on no till -

  1. We didn’t have soil to begin with – we are in the middle of the woods.
  2. I don’t like machinery.
  3. I don’t have any labor force and have to be creative.
  4. These methods allow me to grow in this environment we are in.

“To be honest, once you have equipment, you feel the need to use it. It pushes you in a certain direction,” said Ricky.

“Why don’t you like machinery?”, I asked.

“Maybe I am a luddite. At my first farm in Ithaca, we had the equipment and it wasn’t sustainable. My three tools are…

Cardboard – It is great for transplants and it builds soil. It controls weeds; the soil is getting richer as I am planting. I don’t feel I am depleting the soil.

Silage cover or tarps – I started using these out of necessity when I had a problem with weeds and bad compost. If I want bare ground I can have that for planting cover crops. I have a 50’ x 100’ field sitting under a tarp. I deal with the cover crops with the silage cover. How do you get rid of the crop you just grew? I used to hoe, rake and get rid of it. Now I put a cover down for 3 months. In the greenhouse it doesn’t take that long, but rather 2-3 weeks. Am I baking the soil? All the organic matter makes a layer and keeps the soil cool and the worms are going nuts. If you plan ahead, the amount of energy you save is worth it.

Silage tarped land on left and cover crop trials on the rightCover crops and the crimping thing – I am finally able to do them in (cover crops) with a silage cover. Rodale’s No Till Farming is a good book on the topic. I have been growing sunn hemp, sorghum Sudan grass, and vetch. I am interested in playing with other cover crops.”

“How about wood chips?”, I asked.

“Jean Martin Fortier wants to get into wood chips. I used to cover the cardboard with hay. Now I use the cheapest compost – I get it from Crimson Acres in Orange. It has a lot of wood shavings in it. With access (to wood chips) I will put it on the cardboard.”

Ricky clarified how much “in the woods” their farmstead is now, and was in 1996.

“Where our house was there was no soil,” shared Ricky. “We weren’t beginning with anything. It was thin, rocky crap. Now there is beautiful soil – mostly around 10 inches deep. I was planting winter squash today (June 1) in cardboard. There were worms under there with every planting hole. A worm is equivalent to a 150 lb. person pushing a 9,000 lb. boulder. That is how strong a worm is! N-P-K goes up about 5 times from before the worm ingests the soil until it goes out the other end. [

Sage and corn planted through cardboard with compost on topMy issues are animals – porcupines – and a few leaf miner issues but those are mellowing out. Nothing really.

I first got potting soil from McEnroe. But I really like the Ideal stuff. Bruce Fulford at New Alchemy turned on Mike Lombard to this process he uses to produce the compost.

With onions I will dibble right through the cardboard – anything transplantable I will try. Nothing stands out that doesn’t work with this system. I am always putting cardboard down. I put down the cardboard for the corn three months ago, the onions last fall.

With the silage cover, when the garlic is done, I cover it, and then compost and plant after taking it off. I use it on any land that is not in production that I can’t get cardboard on. The other downside of no-till is cold soil. The cover warms the soil. I am finding good results. I buy it from Farm Tek – 50’ x 100’ for $250.”

I asked if Ricky uses clear plastic and solarization.

“Not yet,” said Ricky. “The clear plastic might heat it up a little too much. Black is just blocking out the light.”

Garlic next to the pee tankAt the end of our conversation Ricky and I discussed materials that he uses on his farm. He is big into using urine, along with the cardboard, local horse compost, silage tarps, and cover crops. What research Ricky has read seems to demonstrate that the soil life, when it is active as it is in his system, cleans up toxics like horse wormers, drugs that might be in human urine, etc. 

“I think why this stuff is so critical,” remarked Ricky, “is because you can get it locally. Mountain land is very acidic – worms neutralize it. It is about biomimicry. I like to work with the natural world and trust in that rather than the high tech solutions.”



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