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Soil

On February 12, 2020, 21 farmers from across Massachusetts drove in to the Statehouse to urge legislators to support the creation of a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program. Gathering in a briefing room, legislators, staffers, press and supporters of the bill heard comments from farmers.

Representative Schmid and Senator Comerford, lead cosponsors of S.2404, the Healthy Soils Bill, started the briefing. “This is amazing to us, that the interest and fascination with healthy soils has grown so quickly here in the State House, and it’s in large part due to your advocacy,” Rep. Schmid remarked to the those in attendance.

“I want to acknowledge your work to grow and expand the possibility of this bill and the impact of healthy soils on our Commonwealth. It’s a food security issue, it’s a farmer justice issue and now we’re rightly seeing it as a climate issue,” said Senator Comerford, adding “And I want to thank NOFA for really spearheading the organizing around this, the outside push. We want to do right by our Commonwealth, and people like you make us do it.”

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:

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.

Healthy Soils and Pollinator bills move after packed public hearing, farmer input needed!

We have a lot to be thankful for this month. In this month’s Policy Update:

1. The Healthy Soils Bill and the Pollinator Protection Act have been passed by the Agriculture committee!

2. Advocates filled the hearing room on Nov. 12th to “Stop Pesticides!”

3. Are you a farmer? We need to hear from you on climate action and land access.

 

Andrew Laurion

URGE (Urban Resources * Garden Economics) is Andrew’s urban farming and edible landscaping company, offering services in the Springfield area

We are so pleased to announce that we have hired Andrew Laurion, urban farming entrepreneur, for the position of NOFA/Mass Bioremediation Project Coordinator! 

Andrew brings to this position his deep connections with the urban farming community in Springfield, a passion for regenerative urban gardening and small-scale farming, an entrepreneurial spirit (he runs his own urban farming and edible landscaping company called Urban Resources * Garden Economics) and enthusiasm for the cause of creating healthy soil. Through his work at URGE and through his connections with Gardening the Community and NOFA/Mass Food Access programs, Andrew has hosted workshops at gardens across Springfield teaching youth about soil science, building raised beds, composting, and other regenerative agriculture topics. 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

chockalog cover

Chockalog Farm is a 36-acre farm in Uxbridge, MA offering vegetables and meat grown in a regenerative, integrated farm system that includes a market garden, high tunnel, food forest, pastures and woods.

How did you get interested in no till?

I don’t really remember! It was about 10 years ago, we would have read a book about it and decided to start out that way—but we read so many books that I am not sure what the first one was. Two early influences on our no-till thinking were Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution and Ruth Stout’s No Work Garden Book, which focused on a permanent mulch system. 

 

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