Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Commitment to Quality

Quality on our vegetable farm starts with the soil.

When we moved to our farm about 12 years ago the farm had been farmed conventionally with corn and beans. Nothing unusual about that, the farm had not been abused, it wasn't over grown to weeds or highly eroded. I'm sure they had been using the typical agricultural chemicals, fertilizers and GMO corn and bean varieties. We had good soil types to work with. The soil types were, way better in fact than at our previous home where the top soil had been sold and all that was left was red clay (we rebuilt this soil with compost over 7 years and when we were done it was some of the best soil I have ever seen).

However, the soil on our new farm was "biologically DEAD". Maybe It would be more politically correct to say the soil was biologically suppressed, the biology was there it was just sleeping and had to be awakened.

So what to do?

Remember that soil we rebuilt from the red clay at our previous home. Well that soil was 8X more productive than our new farm. It took two acres on our new farm to grow organically what we had been able to do with 1/4 acre at our old garden. The flavor, shelf life and visual appeal wasn't nearly as good either. I also noticed some mineral deficiencies, like calcium that first year..

So we got to work.

  1. We limed the whole farm two years in a row, to replace calcium "mined" from the soil.
  2. We grew green manure cover crops to feed the soil micro organisms and wake them up. Sometimes several of these a year in a massive soil and biology building effort.
  3. We composted and composted and composted some more. Through the compost we added  humus, biology, and minerals to refill the soils dwindling "fuel tank". We have added 3.5 million pounds of compost to our 8 tillable acres in 12 years.
You can't believe the difference. A neighbor was chopping one of my cover crops that would then be made into compost. He said he had never seen such a massive amount of organic matter. The cover crop was hairy vetch and winter rye. I think we got about 20 tons from 1.5 acres. I was tilling behind his chopper and the soil was amazing. This was 3 years after we starting to farm here. It has only gotten better.

When the soil is right the vegetables are right. When the soil is healthy the vegetables are healthy.

So our quality story begins with the soil. Yes you pick good varieties and grow them well. Yes you harvest at the right time. Yes they are clean and fresh. Yes they have good flavor.

But the foundation for quality is the soil!

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