HOW WE FARM
What style of farming do you practice?
We are a Regenerative No-Till farm. Our goal is to use farming methods that focus on building soil, sequestering carbon, growing exceptionally healthy plants, and overall leaving the land better than we found it.
We do this by minimally disturbing the soil by mostly using hand tools instead of tractors. We keep the soil covered as much as possible because it protects vital microorganisms in the soil, holds moisture and prevents erosion and weed growth. And lastly, we keep our fields planted and photosynthesizing as much as we can. This keeps the microorganisms well fed and helps to store carbon in the soil.
How do you take care of your soil?
The most important job of a farmer is to build healthy soil. Soil is the base of everything we do, and without healthy soil the rest of the job is a struggle. Luckily, we inherited some excellent soil from our farm mentors Judi and Alex of Tulaberry Farm who have been farming organically on this land for the past 22 years.
The basis of Judi’s soil-building program was copious amounts of her farm-made compost, which Alex has lovingly made each year for her using on-farm animal bedding, crop residue from the garden, food scraps, and horse manure from a neighbor that is free from all pesticides, herbicides, and animal medicines.
When we started farming at Tulaberry, we built off of Judi’s decades of work developing the garden beds and added some new management practices that we have been learning from the growing movement of No-till farming.
Our first year, we took soil samples from all of the fields we grow in and started an amendment program to try and balance the minerals in the soil. We continued using the farm-made compost and also purchased a certified organic chicken-manure based compost produced by a family farm in Armstrong to meet the increasing demand of our garden expansion.
Why is it important to not disturb soil?
In most situations, disturbing soil with tillage is not a good practice for soil health in the long run. Doing so can cause erosion, which can lead to poor water quality downstream, microorganism die-off as the delicate little creatures are exposed to sunlight and air, and weed seed germination.
Tilling can also negatively impact soil structure. Healthy soil structure is created over time, and allows water to gently filter through the soil layers and into aquifers located deep below the soil surface. In contrast, soil that has been disturbed can cause soil aggregates to break up and compaction to form, disrupting the ability of the soil to absorb water and causing runoff and erosion problems.
How do you avoid disturbing the soil?
We use hand tools to incorporate all of the soil amendments and to do all of our bed prep and weeding, which minimally disturbs the soil, keeping the stored carbon in the ground and soil microorganisms happy. We also leave plant roots in the soil when we transition from one crop to another in the same bed instead of yanking them out. That way, soil microorganisms have more to eat while the new crop is establishing roots and the carbon that the previous plants sequestered from the air and stored in their roots stays in the ground as the roots decompose.
How do you keep the soil covered?
To keep the soil covered, we use straw mulches and landscape fabrics. This helps to keep the soil moist, reducing irrigation needs, and providing a more advantageous habitat for microorganisms. A bonus is that it also helps cut down on the time we spend weeding.
What do you do to keep the soil planted and photosynthesizing?
We incorporate multi-species cover crops into our bed rotations to keep the soil covered to prevent erosion, provide food for soil microorganisms that feed off of root exudates, and continue storing carbon in the soil. One no-till practice we use to complement this system is called occultation.
Occultation is the practice of using a silage tarp to cover an area that we want to plant that has plant material (such as a cover crop) on it. The tarp traps heat from the sun and helps to rapidly decompose the plant matter. After the tarp is removed, plants can be transplanted directly into the decomposed organic matter. This practice is great for the soil as it rapidly adds a boost of organic matter and plant nutrients to the soil while keeping the soil structure intact.
Are you certified organic?
We follow organic standards, but are not certified organic. Our land, which is owned by our farm mentors Judi and Alex of Tulaberry Farm, has been certified organic for the past 22 years. We decided to drop our certification in 2021 because it was too expensive and the record keeping was laborious. Our growing space is quite small (about ½ an acre) and it didn't make financial sense to keep it going.
What do you use as fertilizer?
We use our farm-made compost, a certified organic chicken manure compost sourced from a family chicken farm in Armstrong, cover crops, and organic amendments.
Do you spray anything on your veggies?
We do not spray anything on our farm. Our farm mentors / landlords have been farming organically on this property for over 20 years. Pesticides and herbicides have never touched this land.
How do you manage weed pressure?
We manage weeds with a variety of methods. The first method is the good ol fashion way - with our hands and a hoe! We use landscape fabrics and hay mulch to cover bare soil to prevent weeds from sprouting up. We also use a technique called solarizing. Solarizing is when you lay a clear piece of plastic over a bed. The clear plastic will help to heat up the soil, killing most of the weed seeds that are in the first few inches of soil.
How do you manage insect pressure?
We manage insect pressure using a few different methods. We use insect nets, which are thin white meshes that allow sunlight, water and air in, but not bugs. We rotate where certain crops are planted each year, which is known as crop rotation. This makes it more difficult for pests to find and infest those crops. We plant specific plants that attract beneficial insects that will prey on pest insects. And lastly, we squish pest insects by hand every once in a while (sorry guys!).
Where do you get your seeds from?
We get our seeds from a variety of different places. Some of the seed companies are small and up and coming while others are large and well established. We always try to use organic seeds when possible, however some varieties aren’t always available as certified organic. They may have been grown organically, just not certified.
Who provides the labor for your farm?
The two of us provide most of the labor on the farm. During the busier times of the year we’ve done work trades with friends. They provide us with labor and we give them $18 an hour worth of farm credits to our online farm store. Once we become more established and need more full-time help, we will move to paying our employees a living wage of $18 per hour.
What amendments and inputs do you use?
All of the amendments we use are certified organic and we source locally whenever possible. Here is a list of what we use and why.
Compost. We make our own compost on the farm which is made from hay, grass clippings, chicken bedding, food scraps, and weeds. We make a large pile, cover it with a tarp and then let it sit for a few months, turning it occasionally with a tractor. As the microbes in the compost pile eat away at the plant matter, it becomes a nutrient rich black soil. We use compost on almost all of our beds as it provides essential nutrients and organic matter.
Chicken Manure Compost. We have a separate pile of chicken manure compost that we source from an organic chicken farm in Armstrong. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen which some plants need a lot more of than others.
Glacial Rock Dust. Mined from a piedmont glacial moraine in British Columbia Canada, glacial rock dust is a natural mineral product containing a broad spectrum of minerals and micronutrients. We use glacial rock dust on most of our beds because it provides many of the trace minerals that plants need to grow.
Azomite. Azomite is a natural mineral substance which is mined in Utah from an ancient deposit left by a volcanic eruption that filled a small seabed an estimated 30 million years ago. We use it on a lot of our beds and in our seed starting mix because it is high in essential trace minerals.
Kelp Meal. Kelp meal is made from dried ocean seaweed that is then ground up into a meal. The Kelp meal that we used is sourced from the East Coast of Canada. We use Kelp Meal on our beds for its high micronutrient content.
Organic Feather Meal. Feather meal is essentially dried, ground up feathers that are collected from poultry that have been harvested for meat. We use feather meal on a lot of our beds for its high nitrogen content, which is essential for optimal plant growth.
Organic Gia 4-4-4 Balanced Fertilizer. Gia is made from alfalfa meal, bone meal, blood meal, glacial rock dust, mined potassium sulphate, fossilized carbon complex, rock phosphate, greensand, kelp meal, and gypsum. We use Gia in our seed starting mix and for our berries.
Sunshine #4 Organic Potting Soil. We use Sunshine #4 potting soil in our seed starting mix.
Horse Manure. We source horse manure that is void of any medications from a neighbor who does horse training. We use it on a lot of our beds because it is rich in organic matter and nitrogen.
Hay. We source hay from a local farmer and use it as mulch and organic matter for the soil.