Fertility – again
I discussed soil fertility in the past – see the entry on growing green manure crops.
As I indicated earlier, the basis of our fertility program is growing green manure crops and recycling nutrients – compost, crop residues, etc. We grow a lot of green manure crops and I feel like it should be enough to maintain fertility to grow our crops; however, I see signs that our efforts fall short. The most obvious sign is that whenever I spread manure on fields, the crops respond dramatically – ie. they grow taller and are much greener, and in short, much more robust. This indicates to me that our crops would like/appreciate more soil fertility.
We do not have animals on the farm – other than our laying chickens, turkeys, and pets, which produce little manure. Organic certification standards prohibit us using humanure. Sometimes, we purchase some fertility amendments – mostly trace minerals such as zinc, boron, sulfates, and very occasionally, potassium and calcium.
We are fortunate in that a friend of mine who works for the town, which is our county seat – Memphis MO, makes compost from the city’s leaves, grass (lawn) clippings, dirt, and a little cattle manure. He also maintains huge wood chip piles: both fresh (great for paths and mulching berry plants) and aged, which look like compost and I spread on fields for organic matter. Roy began making compost several decades ago – mostly because he wanted to keep all the leaves and grass clippings from being land filled.
The photo shows us spreading the compost from Roy’s piles in one of our fields: we drive the truck (with trailer) into a field on frozen ground (although we are in the midst of a January thaw) and then slinging the compost as far as we can with a shovel. We keep moving the truck forward until we have the field covered or we run out of compost. How much fertility do we add this way? Compared to conventional (and also some organic) farming inputs, the amount of material we add is very small – but it’s what we can do and we feel good about the product.
The tricky part is waiting until the ground is frozen, we have the time/energy, and the snow is not too deep. Hey! it beats going to the gym to get my exercise!