As you may already have remarked, we are going about things a little differently at Indian Creek Orchard Gardens. There are a few overarching principles we are attempting to compose a symphony with. It should be naturally grown
. It should have a minimal impact
. It must to be enjoyable
Naturally grown: We both felt very strongly from the very beginning that our farm needed to be managed according to the deep organic principles. We use farming techniques and practices that ensure healthy food for us and our community as well as a healthy environment for our family and future generations.
Apart from the initial tillage required to bring our farm into production we practice minimal till farming, it has become a mantra for us as we make every effort to build soil organic matter and to maintain the integrity of our soil structure. To this end we make extensive use of green manures and green mulches. These are cover crops (buckwheat, oats, peas, radish or rye) that we use to protect and enhance the soil when we are not growing crops. Keeping the soil covered prevents erosion, sequester nutrients, cools the soil and improves it structure. In many cases we leave the winter killed crop residues in place the following growing season as an in-situ form of mulch to suppress weeds for the following transplanted crop. These residues add organic matter and fertility as they decompose.
We have also begun to assemble what we call our “poultry crew”, which is a flock of heritage chickens that we use to further enhance our soil and its fertility. We pasture them in garden beds that have cover crops that we’ve allowed to go to seed. This provides us a free source of feed, while the chickens weed, consume insect and larvae, all the while fertilizing and converting the left over straw into compost for a crop the following year. Did I mention eggs?
Although many organically derived pesticides are condoned by the Canadian Organic Standard, we avoid their use altogether. The web of life that exists on our farm is sacred and we believe every component of it serves a purpose in a healthy ecosystem and so we prefer to keep our interventions to a minimum. This year we were reminded why keeping our farm ecosystem intact is so important.
Our front line of pest deterrents include cultural practices such as beneficial habitat, crop rotation, diverse interplantings, row covers and other insect barriers to minimize insect problems. When insect problems overwhelm these defences (as they occasionally do) we respond.
These responses may include emergency harvests (harvesting entire crops before full maturity to minimize losses) or more targeted interventions such as soap or vegetable oil sprays to deal with insects like aphids or mites and occasionally with the use of naturally occurring bacterias such as Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk) which is a bacteria found in soil in the natural environment.
For disease prevention we do not use fungicides. Rather, we make use of disease resistant strains when available. We also partition disease prone crops so that if one patch succumbs, another patch (far away) may very well carry on problem free. In lieu of any disease “remedies” we prefer the proactive and holistic approach. We have repurposed an existing organic practice, compost tea brewing, bringing it to whole new levels (seriously). Our compost tea is brewed on-site in a 1000 litre aerated brewer. We extract the microbial life from active compost into a tea solution by percolating the compost over a 24 hour period.
During this time the brewing tank is aerated with a powerful blower attached to 10 air diffusers with over 60,000 individual micron sized pores to produce tiny bubbles.
This aeration in combination with a feedstock of organic molasses allows the microbial life in the compost to multiply exponentially in that time. The actively aerated solution also favours the aerobic bacteria which are beneficial and eliminates any harmful anaerobic bacteria that may have been in the compost feedstock. Our compost tea is both disease prevention and organic fertilizer.
Our compost tea is then circulated through our drip irrigation system, distributing an abundance of naturally occurring beneficial microbial life into the soil. This accelerates the decomposition of organic matter, making nutrients more available to the trees and vegetables in the garden and faster. This results in healthier and more resilient plants. The compost tea is also used as a foliar spray on the orchard and garden foliage. Through competitive colonization of the leafs surface by the beneficial bacteria and fungus’s in the tea, disease and fungal infection in the orchard are denied a foothold and are greatly reduced, eliminating the need for fungicides (organic or otherwise) altogether. For more on this breakthrough technology see the excellent work of Dr Elain Ingham, PhD.