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For me, the arrival of the NOFA bulk order is, like the arrival of the seed catalogs, a harbinger of spring, and an opportunity to stock up on things I know I will use all season long. The bulk order also appeals to the Yankee in me, because I know I will get great prices, especially with the member discount, and loading up my pick-up with a season’s worth of soil amendments feels like thrift rewarded. There are hundreds of items to choose from, for the back yard or the back 40. Here are some favorites of NOFA farmers this year:

Butterflies enjoying native flowers Photo credit: Caro Roszell

Communities across Massachusetts are standing up and taking action against toxic biocides and the dangers they pose to all living things-- from the smallest insect to those of us at the top of the food chain. Local leaders and concerned citizens are mounting a defense of the vulnerable members of our ecosystems, from the Statehouse to the schoolyard. 

With a raft of bills on pesticide reduction and pollinator protection before the state legislature (Pollinator Protection Act (Neonic Restrictions), Neonic Ban, Local Option on Pesticides, Protect Schoolchildren from Pesticides, Restrict Glyphosate use on Public Lands, Glyphosate Ban, Protect Groundwater from Pesticides) and with 29 Massachusetts communities that have already established some level of municipal action on pesticide reduction/pollinator protection, there is no better time to join the movement to protect our ecosystems and our health!

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

No matter how early I think about adding fall amendments, this job always falls to the bottom of the to-do list below some bigger priorities. Harvesting crops remaining in the field prior to frost, bagging up all the row covers, and removing all the poles and trellises, for example, all take precedence over the spreading of fall amendments.

Fortunately, this year I sent my soil test into Logan Labs in October, so after receiving the results, all I had to do was calculate the amendments I needed to order, order them, pick them up, and broadcast them on the fields.  If you have a Logan Labs soil test result, NOFA/Mass will analyze it and give you soil recommendations. You can see the details of that program here or check out this article to calculate your own amendment needs.  You can order a variety of soil amendments through the annual NOFA Bulk Order.

 

 

weed large garden bed

Soil test results are the key to planning your soil fertility program. Adding the right amendments in the right amount can dramatically improve your plants’ health and your garden’s productivity. But once you have your test results, it can sometimes feel daunting to figure out how much of a particular amendment you need to add to get to your goal--and I say that as a former math and chemistry teacher!

In this article, I will try to greatly simplify that process with a few conversion factors and formulas. With these, you should be able to use your results to easily figure out what you need to order—from the NOFA bulk order or elsewhere—and apply your findings to fine tune your garden’s fertility.

Manage your landscape organically to have an impact on your wellbeing and our larger environment.

Manage your landscape organically to have an impact on your wellbeing and our larger environment. 

Accreditation Course in Organic Landcare, Amherst, MA, January 6-9, 2020

As we go about our daily lives, we might not consider the myriad functions of the landscapes we inhabit.  The way that the landscapes that surround us are managed have an impact on our wellbeing and the function of our larger environment. How a landscape is managed impacts our air and water quality, our exposure to systemic toxins, the insect, bird, and other wildlife the landscape supports, the amount of water the landscape absorbs and the amount of carbon that the landscape emits or absorbs and stores, along with many other functions.

Ellena discusses the oats and peas cover crop

While spring planting of cover crops is not an uncommon practice on organic farms and gardens, many farmers and market gardeners are experimenting with extending cover crop overlaps with cash crops through the creative use of easy-to-manage species (field peas, buckwheat and oats, all of which can be ordered through the annual NOFA Bulk Order) and leaving them in the ground until just prior to bed planting, or even allowing them to share bed space with cash crops or new perennial plantings.

Emerging research on soil microbiology and soil carbon sequestration shows that the number of days/year that soil has living roots in the ground with photosynthesis happening (i.e. “days in living cover”), the density of living plant roots, and the diversity of species of plants present are all contributing factors in increasing soil health and building soil organic matter / soil organic carbon.

These insights from the scientific community and healthy soils movement have spurred growers to start experimenting with ways to increase living root density and species diversity on as many beds and fields as possible.  

One of the central tenets of no-till organic gardening and farming is to never leave soil bare, especially through the winter. Planting a cover crop at the end of the season is one way to do that, but it can be challenging in the fall to get a good crop started before the cold weather sets in, and challenging again in the spring while you wait for it to size up before planting your main crop.

On my farm, I address these challenges by mostly avoiding seeded cover crops, and instead applying lots of what I call “nature’s cover crop”: leaves, and lots of ‘em. I aim to put about 4” of leaves on all my garden beds beginning as soon as I can get them, usually late October through November.

Worms love leaves and the soil environment that they provide, and the worms do most of the work of breaking them down over time, leaving me with a rich, loose, fertile soil the following spring, still covered with a nice layer of mulch. At planting time I usually rake the leaves on the beds into the paths, allowing the soil to warm quickly, and then add it back by the handful or forkful as the season progresses. Unlike hay mulch, you won’t get stray weed seeds in your leaf mulch, except maybe an acorn or two.

This September we are focusing on Soil Health, with statewide events focusing on healthy soils practices and indicators taking place on the first and last days of the month and many days in between.

Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge will kick off the month on September 1st with a detailed farm tour emphasizing their methods for increasing the productivity and resilience of their farm through stacked enterprises and farming practices centered on enhancing soil health and building soil carbon.

For the middle of the month, we will offer a free series across the state entitled “What’s Going on Down There? Soil Health & Fertility Assessment for Growers.” The focus of these short, on-site workshops is to help gardeners and farmers understand how to utilize different tests to determine the health and fertility of their soil environment, how to inform their input and management decisions, and how to start understanding the ways that management practices, inputs, and soil biology intersect. Participants will go home with a Soil Health Field Test Manual (instructions and data sheets) and a handout of resources for labs where you can send samples of your soil.

Radishes Push out

We get this question a lot, or some version of it, such as the comment “My radish roots hit the hardpan and instead of going through it they pushed up and out of the ground.” Why does this happen?

The explanation lies in understanding how compaction limits root growth and understanding why radish so often works so well to alleviate compaction. The limiting factor to root penetration is not so much the hardness of soil, but the oxygen content of soil. Roots must have at least 10% oxygen in order to grow. Since oxygen comes from the soil surface and diffuses down through the pore spaces in the soil, the oxygen content is highest near the surface and decreases with increasing distance from the surface. Any layer of soil with limited pore space will act as a barrier to movement of soil oxygen, and thus as a barrier to root growth.

Soil Science

In the previous installment, we delved into what nitrogen is, why plants need it and how plants, bacteria and humans get it. Today we will delve into how it moves through our farms and interacts with global systems. The concept of a biogeochemical cycle is useful in thinking about how elements behave on a micro and global scale. As can be seen in the roots of the word, a biogeochemical cycle involves biological, from organism to ecosystem, and abiotic systems such as the atmosphere. It makes sense, on a planet whose continents appear green from photosynthetic organisms from space, that life is a driving force inextricable from chemical and geological processes. Humans, of course, need to come to terms with this reality. We cannot live on the planet without changing the planet, and the kind of planet we will have to live on will be the direct result of our actions. Other examples of biogeochemical cycles are those for water, carbon and sulfur.

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