The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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Soil

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. 

 

As the changing seasons conduct the activity of growers across the United States, the low hum of machines running on biofuel, the calls and cackles of chickens, and the occasional donkey song can be heard emanating from the south facing hillsides of Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, Vermont. Karl Hammer started operations on this land in the capital city after decades spent in the fields, learning from elders and landcrafters, using their traditional wisdoms to fuel new innovations.

Karl began farming full time in his youth, and his passion for connecting culture back to its roots in the soil has aged into a dedicated team of people running a company focused on making products aimed to support the efforts of professional growers. Everything from material sourcing to daily operations have been refined down to a sort of alchemy where science, lab testing, customer feedback, and intuition are combined to create soil media that is reliable, productive, and ethically produced.

Here at NOFA/Mass, we are excited that our fellow Conservation Innovation Grant Awardee, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) came out last month with some results from its case study analysis of healthy soils practices and farm profitability.

Using partial budget analysis to estimate the net economic benefits on their farms, AFT assesses the investments of four farmers in specific healthy soils practices, including tillage reduction, cover cropping, nutrient management, and applications of mulch and cover crops. They also used tracking and modeling tools from USDA to estimate water quality and environmental benefits.

 

Learn About & Give Input to Statewide Climate Resilience

This year, NOFA Summer Conference attendees and any interested members of the public will have an opportunity to give input during the Fair to a Massachusetts statewide plan for enhancing soil health, soil carbon, and soil resilience across multiple land uses. We will be gathering from 4:30-5:30pm on the lawn near the conference registration tent to share information and ideas about planning for soil health across the state.

ABOUT THE HEALTHY SOILS ACTION PLAN

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) and the Massachusetts Commission for Conservation of Soil, Water, & Related Resources have embarked on a broad public planning process to research and write a plan for how Massachusetts can best support land uses including farming, forestry and urban development for climate change resilience and mitigation. 

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.

no glyphosate

There’s been so much good/bad news about glyphosate recently (good for Life, bad for biocide backers), it’s been hard to keep up. (This news stream updated almost daily.) We have some recent major developments to share with you, the Mass. organic movement, in hopes that you will share these updates with your state elected officials and call for action on glyphosate!

Short on time? Use this form to send a message about glyphosate to legislators within seconds.

  HEADLINES:

ifoam logo

NOFA is honored to be hosting this year’s Organic Farming Innovation Award (OFIA) Summit on Saturday August 10  at the 2019 Summer Conference!  Founded in 1972 and with around 800 members in over 127 countries, IFOAM - Organics International represents the global organic movement. Its main activities include facilitating capacity development for sustainable production; raising awareness and acting as a resource center for organic communications; advocating for and supporting the creation of a policy environment conducive to positive change.

We are looking forward to hosting IFOAM - Organics International community members and are excited to learn from their organizers. IFOAM - Organics International will be leading activities during several workshop slots at the Conference on Saturday, which all conference attendees are welcome to attend (no special registration pass is needed).

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