One discussion that comes around in farming is whether you feed the plant or feed the soil. Here on Transition Farm, we feed the soil believing that healthy soil is the beginning of a healthy plant. Much of our energy as growers is spent nurturing the life in the soil, balancing the minerals, bacteria and microbes that create a living and dynamic soil. We make compost, apply Biodynamic preparations which seed soil bacteria, grow and till in cover crops, make special herb and seaweed brews to mineralize the soil. Cover crops are amazing. Peas, for instance, love growing in cooler weather. We seed them in the autumn on land that has grown food throughout the summer. They sprout and make some growth before the real cold of winter sets in, suppressing other weeds. Then they just sit there, covering the soil, protecting it from strong winter storms that might erode the top soil away with wind and heavy rains. They also harness atmospheric nitrogen...it is just what they do. So while they are sitting there, they are making nitrogen, pulling it from the air and storing it in these little root nodules in the soil. Come spring, they shoot off growing, even before we humans might feel the spring coming. We till them in just as they are flowering. You can see the leaf matter in the soil in the above photo. The worms will come and digest that more, as will the various other soil life. The added hummus helps the soil retain water and provides a base of nutrients accessible to plant roots.
We have been planting cover crops on the mandala soil for four years now. When we arrived, the soil was a sandy loam, grey in color, dry, hydro-phobic (water literally pooled on top of the soil instead of sinking into it). Now it is rich and dark and full of worms, smells alive, holds together in your hand when you clasp a fist full, and is ready to grow food, full of all the nutrients we want fresh food to have.
Healthy soil not only fills food with goodness, but, more importantly, it also supports the health of the plant growing that food. Healthy plants can fend off fungus attacks, insect attacks, weather stresses. So by feeding the soil, we are feeding the plant, at the onset of its life cycle.
We continue to under sow crops with cover crops throughout the growing season. Last year we sowed clover under the cabbage, corn and pumpkins.
Cover cropping can be done in any size space, from small raised garden beds to large acreage. While cover cropping is a biodynamic farming practice, it is also an organic and sustainable agriculture farming practice. Healthy Soil - Wholesome Food!