Our farming methods
Naturally grown vs organic:
People ask what the difference between organic and naturally grown is. In a nutshell, natural farms operate according to organic principles and attempt to work with existing natural systems. Yet, not all organic farms operate according to natural farming principles. The resulting produce may be similar, but our respect for natural environments and systems may vary. One of our role models and a pioneer of organic farming, Elliot Coleman, expresses it very eloquently here
We both felt very strongly from the very beginning that our farm needed to be managed according to deep organic
principles. We use all natural farming techniques and practices that ensure healthy food for us and our community as well as a healthy environment for our family and everyone downstream.
Soil health and fertility | Apart from the initial tillage required to bring our farm into production we endeavor to practice minimal till or shallow till farming. 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.
Another of our fertility sources is poultry manure. We pasture our flock of heritage chickens throughout the orchard garden. Mostly in garden beds that have been harvested for the year or that have been left fallow. We also use truckloads of composted horse manure from local farms to help replenish the nutrients that leave our farm as produce each year.
Weed management | People often ask us how we manage to stay on top of the weeds without the use of herbicides. There is no easy answer to that question and often we do not. Evey year there are crops that are lost to thickets of weeds, especially during wet periods when cultivation is pointless and weeds grow quickly. Nevertheless we begin each season with the best of intentions. We use cover crops or old silage tarps on areas of our farm not in production. The cover crops out-compete many weeds. The silage tarps block the sun and prevent weeds from establishing. In areas of our farm in vegetable production the best way to combat weed pressure is to have have healthy, fertile soil that allow quickly growing crops to outgrow and shade the weeds.
Early in the season while our crops are young and not yet able to out-compete weeds we use a variety of mechanical weeding methods. On a broad scale we use a small, restored, vintage 1948, Allis Chalmer model G, tractor, which allows us to quickly shallow cultivate entire rows in minutes. We also use a variety of vintage planet junior wheel hoes for smaller areas or places where the tractor is not practical. When all else fails, we are out there on hands and knees hand-weeding.
Pest management | Although many organically derived broad spectrum pesticides are condoned by the Canadian Organic Standard, we prefer to 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. In 2017 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 inter-plantings, and various partitions (row covers, screened hoophouses and other insect barriers) to minimize pest problems. When pest problems overwhelm these defenses (as they occasionally do) we respond. Our preferred interventions are biological ones. We use cats and dogs to manage rodent populations, as well as other four legged and winged pests. Our creek side with its thick riparian border and our irrigation pond is home to a diversity of amphibians that patrol our farm relentlessly in search of rodents and insects. We occasionally release cultured lady bugs and praying mantis. We use parasitic trichogramma wasps to control leek moth and other eggs. We also use a naturally occurring soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk), to control caterpillar and cabbage moth populations. These are all very effective predators, yet they have no adverse effect on our eco-system. However, they are not so effective that any pest population is ever totally eradicated. That would create an imbalance.
Disease management |
For disease prevention our preferred control is to 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. We practice lengthy crop rotations so that disease does not have the opportunity to accumulate in our soils. In lieu of any disease “remedies” we also 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 200 litre aerated brewer. We extract the microbial life from active compost into a tea solution by percolating the compost over a 24 hour period. This works due to competitive colonization of leaf surfaces. Thus, when a disease spore floats into our orchard, it may find a NO VACANCY sign on many of our trees, or it may have to struggle to find a foothold. For more on this breakthrough technology see the excellent work
of Dr Elain Ingham, PhD.
Our next line of defence is another organic strain of bacteria isolated from the soil, Streptomyces lydicus. It colonizes plant structures in a beneficial symbiotic manner, when introduced into the root zone or applied to foliage. The Streptomyces lydicus spores germinate and form a mutually beneficial relationship within the rhizosphere of plants by feeding off the plant’s waste and secreting beneficial byproducts that disrupts fungal predation. In the rare instances where disease does get a foothold we may resort to the use of an organic copper/lime spray.