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

Cover Crop

Cover Crop Cocktail

Here it is, another wild-weather day here at the homestead. I realize that it is still early spring and the weather is unpredictable, but somehow in recent years, the swings in daily weather patterns seem more extreme. Another good reason to be glad that I am a “Carbon Farmer”, co-creating a more healthy and resilient soil, which can roll with the punches, tolerating swings between mild, 60-degree days and those like today, with high wind, snow, sleet and rain. 

This time of year (most times really) I like to take regular garden walk-throughs, inspecting and observing the conditions of the soil, growing beds and mulch. Earlier this week (in mid-April) I determined it was time to plant those early cover crops (discussed in the April issue of this newsletter). For the most part, the beds were still covered in mulch, with just a few bare spots of unprotected soil. The depth of all of the mulch is much thinner now than it was in the fall, an indication that throughout the winter, there has been a slow process of healthy decomposition. The worms, macro and microorganisms have been doing their jobs, integrating organic material into the soil and simultaneously receiving nutrients for their winter survival.

MDAR

NOFA/Mass is thrilled to announce that a USDA grant will enable us to offer soil technical assistance to growers in Massachusetts in order to improve soil fertility, crop quality, and yield. This project will also result in resources and workshops that will help other farmers implement similar soil health practices.

Brix Bounty tomato harvest (Credit: Brix Bounty)

NOFA/Mass is beginning 2018 with a series of webinars that focus on skill building for rural and urban beginning farmers, organic farming as a means to creating a just food system and the power of cover crops to increase soil fertility. 

Do you ever wonder whether you are building your land’s best possible soil health? Have you thought about the relationship between your farm or garden soil and the excess carbon in Earth’s atmosphere?

Beyond the typical mineral analysis of soil there is the question of soil life and vitality— which is a very good “proxy” for soil carbon. In most cases if you have lots of soil carbon you are going to have lots of soil life, and vice versa.

Do you ever wonder whether you are building your land’s best possible soil health? Have you thought about the relationship between your farm or garden soil and the excess carbon in Earth’s atmosphere?

Beyond the typical mineral analysis of soil there is the question of soil life and vitality— which is a very good “proxy” for soil carbon. In most cases if you have lots of soil carbon you are going to have lots of soil life, and vice versa.

Digging up pasture soil

Digging up pasture soil

In the past few years, NOFA/Mass has fielded more and more questions from our members on where to get help in reading soil tests and how to build healthy soil to grow high quality, nutrient dense food. Although we have hosted and supported many educational programs and workshops on this topic over the years, we decided it was time we developed a soil technical assistance program. This program will be launched this fall with staff dedicated to helping farmers, gardeners, and land managers remineralize their soil and provide support for soil building across our constituency.  

1) Young cover crop planted on 18” space at end of onion bed

It’s been a great growing year, so far, and we’ve had an abundant harvest of delicious vegetables. The apple and pear trees are loaded with fruit soon to be enjoyed. Every year our soil becomes richer and healthier, yielding more nutritious and delicious food while removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering carbon in our soil. This is a continuous cycle of life creating and sustaining life.

I’ve been preparing a presentation about this biological growing technique (No-till and Cover Crops for us gardeners) for both a NOFA/Mass webinar and a workshop at the Summer Conference. If you are interested and missed these talks, you can view the YouTube video of the whole talk.

After many years spent talking about changing light bulbs and utilizing energy-efficient vehicles, policy makers are finally waking up to the importance of the humble soil microbe in humanity’s efforts to keep the climate from becoming as erratic as a rickety rollercoaster. At this point, many climate action leaders and soil scientists acknowledge that agricultural (mis)management is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently, no state or federal agency was willing to tackle this problem head on.

This year that is finally changing. Over this past year, as advocacy groups, scientists, and reporters have become more openly vocal about the importance of healthy soils, politicians in multiple states have heeded the call. First, California passed a law creating the “Healthy Soils Initiative”, which provides $7.5 million for efforts to “protect and restore soil organic matter” along with a host of other services.

Jen Salinetti farms with her husband Pete in Tyringham, MA in the Berkshires. They have been farming for 16 years together, the four years spent on their almost 5-acre farm. In recent years they have not been using tillage to grow their vegetables. Jen feels that by not disturbing the soil they have a considerable positive impact on carbon sequestration on their land. They have experienced a significant increase in quality and yields which has enabled them to create a viable business on a small amount of land.

“Pete and I started experimenting with no-till 13 years ago, and we are now going into year 11. Our initial experimenting began when we were looking to increase greenhouse production. We started looking into ways to do prep without the tiller. We saw some really great results after the first season. And then we expanded it out to our market garden. Through the process, we were able to set up permanent beds and maximize our earnings and outputs through proper spacing of plants. It was right around when our son Diego was born. We wanted to commit to farming, to be available for family life and to be home.”

Green Team staking the tomatoes in test plot #1

Though the word “farming” is in its name, NOFA does more than just work with rural farmers. Much attention is paid to ways more traditional, production farmers can use techniques like cover cropping and mineral amendments to enhance their yields, but there are few resources and little knowledge for using these tools on smaller scale and urban sites.

NOFA/Mass is partnering with The Trustees Boston Community Gardens and Groundwork Somerville on a three-year project to improve the fertility and production of compost-based soils, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Compost is often free and used-widely by many city growers. Though considered non-toxic and safe for growing in, compost does not provide all that soil needs to produce healthy and sustained crop growth.

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