It’s time to talk about dirt. When I bought the property last March/April I knew it would be a tough year. With any start up business there is a lot to do. When it came to the soil I got some hope from the previous farmer who told me of his successes. The problem was that as we move to sustainable /eco farming (you can say organic, I can’t) the soil was used to having large amounts of chemical fertilizer put on it.
The year before I bought the property corn had been planted on it. Corn is a tearable crop, which means it’s a nitrogen stripper, so I knew there would be problems but…
First off, the peas took longer than they should have to get started. I thought the slow start might have been because of the cold spring, but when the plants came out of the greenhouse looking healthy and then stumbled I knew there was a problem.
Then my lovely deep green tomato plants turned purple. This could have been caused by two problems: cold and/or a lack of phosphorous. I had some worm castings (read poop) that I had collected so I worked some into one row and gave them a little water. The next day they started to green up. So, from then on, every plant (including all 500 plum tomato babies), got a trowel full of worm castings. At this point I did a basic soil test. The results told me what I already knew: the soil was completely depleted of nutrients.
I knew I was in trouble at this point and that there wasn’t much I could do for this year. A bag of bone meal and a box of seaweed helped, but I was already looking ahead to 2014. The answer? Beans! Beans provide the soil with nitrogen so I ordered a variety of them. You name them, I bought them: flat green beans, red and white Romano beans and fava beans. I really didn’t care if I sold them because it was all about 2014. To my surprise I was able to more than cover the cost of growing them and my soil should benefit from them in 2014. Well, at least, let’s hope.
In 2013 we used much of the front 5 acres while the back 5 was used by a local farmer. In 2014 we’ll use all the front 5 and possibly part of the back but the area that is not used will be planted with something we can cut and mulch into the soil or, yes, more beans.
Getting the soil back to where it needs to be will take years. In 2013 our yields were around 10% of what they should be; this year, with the work I’ve done, that number will go up but it will be 4-5 years and a lot of natural fertilization before the soil will support proper yields.
But hey, where can you get a tan and play in the dirt all day and besides, if you get a little something on your boots well that washes off and it’s good for the soil.
And if the beans do well just think, there will be pasta fagioli all winter.