Farm Notes by Benjamin

Our Growing Practices

There has been much in the news about breaches of trust between producers and consumers of food, medicine, and other products; imported fish tainted with chemicals, lead-paint toys, killer pet food, etc. In nearly all of these stories, there has been a common thread of a long, opaque supply chain– not only is it impossible for consumers to know exactly what’s in an item, but in many case producers along the supply chain don’t know what’s in the materials that they’re handling and then passing along.

One of the benefits of having a relationship directly with Hearty Roots Farm is that you are one short step away from the source of your food. If you are at all uncertain of how your veggies are being grown, you have the opportunity to ask the people who grew it; you even have the opportunity to come to the farm and see it being grown!

You probably already know that we grow our food using organic methods; we use no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and we aim to improve our soil and ecosystem through our practices. Here are some more details about how we manage our soil’s fertility on the farm, so you know exactly what’s going into your food:

Our most important tool for maintaining fertile soils is our use of cover crops. By planting oats, rye, clover, vetch, and peas in our fields when they are not in crop production, we are able to use the sun’s energy to harvest carbon ( i.e. organic matter) and nitrogen from the air. We then till those cover crops into the soil, where the organic matter and nitrogen become available to our crops. This is by far the cheapest way for us to build our soils; rather than trucking in organic matter (such as compost made somewhere else) or nitrogen (such as manure), we let our fields produce their own.

However, vegetables have high fertility requirements, so cover cropping doesn’t always provide everything we need. We add nutrients to our soil through a few outside inputs. At the beginning of the season, we spread soybean meal and some mineral powders on our fields. Soybean meal is high in nitrogen, and is relatively cheap (it’s what is left over when processors press soybean oil out of the beans). Because it is an organic product, it releases nitrogen slowly to our crops over the course of a few seasons, unlike chemical fertilizers which would be more likely to leach out into our water table. Mineral powder (namely sulfate of potash) provides Potassium to our crops; some farms might also add Phosphorus, but our soils are sufficiently high in Phosphorus naturally, so we don’t need to add any.

During the season, we also give our vegetables a “boost” by adding small amounts of blended organic fertilizer (consisting of mineral powders, composted chicken manure, bone meal, peanut meal and feather meal); and we spray our seedlings in the greenhouse with some liquefied fish to give them a jolt of nutrients. In the long run, we hope to build our soils up through cover cropping to the point where we don’t need to add extra nutrients; however, our fields were cut for hay for years before we began growing on them. This process repeatedly draws organic matter and nutrients out of the soil without replacing them. It will take years of careful organic management to restore our soils’ natural fertility. We’re off to a good start, but until then we must rely on some outside inputs to keep our veggies growing.

So no more mysteries on your plate! You now know every single item that we’re using to feed the plants that are feeding you.

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