If you’ve ever wondered what S.O.S stands for, it’s: Save Our Soil!
Just kidding! But it might as well be because our soil is in serious trouble, which means that the future of agriculture could be in jeopardy. As in food being increasingly harder to grow in addition to all the other problems we are facing with the climate and more. What is one of the main causes of the detriment of our dirt? Industrial-scale farming. Plowing with machines doesn’t just churn the soil, it removes the larger organisms, like fungi and protozoa (one-celled microorganisms that feed on organic matter) from the soil. This disruption throws the whole web out of balance. These organisms are important because they are decomposers who make sure that plants are getting the right nutrients from their environment so that they can grow healthily. They also help to maintain diversity in the foundational components of soil (clay, sand, rocks/ pebbles, and silt) so that water can easily be accessed by plants.
What is the soil-ution? Leading soil biologist Dr. Elaine Ingham has pioneered research about the microorganisms in soil and how they interact with plants. In other words, the food web or biome (kind of like the gut biome in humans) that is found within soil and is made up of all the bacteria and organisms that produce nutrients for plants. When restored it has many crucial benefits to the environment. It can prevent erosion, pests, disease, and weeds. A good example of a thriving soil biome is forests forests, which are incredibly productive without needing any human intervention. A healthy soil food web increases farmers’ production while decreasing costs for fertilizers and pesticides.
Are there any examples of soil reclamation in this area? Local farmer, John Ferrell, followed USDA guidelines to rehabilitate the soil on his land and, when he had it tested, the results came back as some of the most fertile soil in the state. Here at Sprouting farms we are testing out no-till methods; we are testing using the cover crop “hairy vetch” to plant tomatoes into, so that we can better enrich the plants that we grow. Last Fall we put in a cover crop of Winter Rye and, once it was at the right maturity in its life cycle this Spring, it was crimped down (with some encouragement!) so that we could do a planting of pumpkins and melons that had a mulch bed already established. We have also used sweet clover in between walking rows that acts as a living mulch to eliminate so much pesky weeding and simultaneously add nutrients. We are always looking for new things to try to improve soil quality while also participating in preservation. It goes to show that change is possible and a future of happy and healthy soil is right around the corner.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic here is the link to the website talking more about Elaine’s work: https://www.soilfoodweb.com/how-it-works/#structure-formation
With planting season creeping up, we wanted to talk a little about some of the ways to plant into your garden. As you are preparing your beds and planning what to plant, you should also consider how you are going to plant.
Plant from seed? Pop in starts? You've got options!
You're all amped up to plant a Spring garden. You're wondering which to plant into your beds, seeds or starts. Here's a checklist of the pros and cons of each method below to help you decide which planting path you should take.
For centuries women have been the backbone of food production.According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, women were, likely, our first cultivators. In the nomadic hunter-gatherer times, women would gather plants for food and leave the scraps and seeds, only to find the plant growing when they returned. This, in all probability, led to them purposely scattering the seeds, and so we took our first steps towards cultivated food production. In later years, after cultivation was a widespread practice, it was the men who labored in the fields for cash crops like tobacco, cotton, wheat, and corn, or in their professions. At the same time, women had the task of running the family farm, growing the vegetables and fruit to be used by the household, as well as feeding and caring for livestock.
We all know that over the winter months, our eating habits leave much to be desired. For many of us, winter meals are lacking fresh veggies. It's meal after meal of meat and bread, cakes and pies, but very few fresh fruits and vegetables. We are longing for that salad, but we don't have too. There are so many veggies that grow well into the winter months or can be stored to last for those drab winter months.
As the year is winding down, heading towards a new decade, we are tasked with the responsibility of the future. And, like everything in life, the past has a way of catching up with us, for good or bad. Ours is undoubtedly catching up to us. With storms and droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, fires, and tsunamis, the weather is screaming at us. The sea is rising, the temperatures are rising. The seasons are changing. This is due to the choices we have made for centuries, and these choices are affecting the future health and life of the planet we all call home.
There are many different farming techniques and technologies out there these days, and almost all of them depend on soil. With the ever-declining fertility of lands on a global scale, now is the time we should think about the techniques to rebuild it or learn to grow without it. Like, Hydroponics. Even we, Sprouting Farms, have a hydroponic greenhouse.
So what is hydroponics?
Well, basically, it is soil-less growing. It is fast becoming one of the most trendy ways to garden indoors. From Pinterest with mason jar gardening to full-on production and urban micro-greens farmers. Just about all of us have grown something in a hydroponic greenhouse. Do you remember that time in elementary school when you used that ziplock bag and a damp paper towel to grow bean sprouts? Yes. That was a simple version of hydroponics!
Hydroponic plants are grown with a mineral and nutrient-enriched water solution, rather than in the ground or container with soil. The roots grow directly into the water solution, or they grow with a medium like perlite, vermiculite, or even gravel. The way the plants grow will depend on the type of hydroponic system.
Loads of Love for Winter Greens!
Here in Appalachia, seasonal eating means having loads of greens throughout the year. A variety of greens, including kale, chard, and spinach can be grown well in our region. And, thanks to their cold-weather hardiness and the use of high tunnels, greens are among the limited crops available in the peak of winter. In years past, winter greens were a staple food for many West Virginians, but sadly most people today don't know how to prepare and eat them.
We have taken a bit of a hiatus on all things blog related here at the farm. But, we are back and ready to let you all in on all of the amazing things we accomplished this summer, the projects we are working on now, and some fun new things we are bringing to the blog.