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Soil

Fall soil testing can get you set up to succeed next growing season. Don’t shoot in the dark - find out what your soil’s limiting factors are now. Fall soil testing will also enable you to order the amendments you need via the 2021 Tri-State Bulk Order  – a NOFA tradition that helps growers of all sizes get affordable prices on farm and garden supplies while helping fund critical programming and activities at participating NOFA chapters.

As a thank you for soil testing with NOFA/Mass, you will receive a $10 coupon code to use when you place your order via the Tri-State Bulk Order in January.

There is not yet a significant body of research on barriers to adoption of healthy soils practices in agriculture, but initial investigations reveal that the primary barrier to adoption is farmer uncertainty about outcomes of practices adoption.

According to a report by The Nature Conservancy,  reThink Soil: A Roadmap to U.S. Soil Health,

 

 

Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham Massachusetts is a diversified organic vegetable CSA farm run by a small farm team managing 1.3 acres in cultivation (360 50’ beds plus paths) on a 10-acre site, roughly 5 of which is owned and 5 of which is leased. The farm grows food for 204 households through their CSA program and also grows for two wholesale accounts on 1.3 acres of land. 80 of their CSA shares are distributed through community partnerships to provide healthy food for low-income households.

Viability: The farm grosses $100,0000 in sales per acre. The farm employs six full-time growers and one part-time employee.  The farm owners, Jen and Pete Salinetti, earn 80% of their income each year directly from farm sales, with another 20% of earnings from on-farm education programs.

As NOFA followers know, the future of healthy food and climate stability depends on the life below our feet. The seven state NOFA Chapters have been working with farmer leaders in our states to educate the farming community about innovations in tillage reduction for organic farms.

If you’re looking to learn more about tillage-reduction and other healthy soils practices in organic farming, NOFA has a lot to offer this fall. Here’s a roundup of the new season’s tillage reduction events across the northeast— most are online (a great opportunity to find out what growers in other states are up to) but some chapters will be allowing a small number of people to register for in-person field days.

 

As more and more people discover the importance of healthy soil in relation to healthy plants, pastures and gardens, many are also discovering that manure is one of a farm’s most valuable resources.  Cows, in particular, are extremely efficient converters of mature plant matter into nutrient-rich, highly degradable organic material.  

While the percentage of nutrients found in manure can vary greatly from animal to animal due to differences in diet, cow manure is known to be a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are important minerals for future plant growth.  While synthetic fertilizers may be more concentrated forms of these minerals, manure includes a high percentage of solid matter, which provides vital carbon compounds that build soil structure.  

If there was a way to nurture natural systems, reverse environmental damage, and increase the health of people and animals around us, wouldn’t you want to support it?  If so, maybe you should start drinking more milk. 

Dairy farmers throughout the Northeast are embracing farming methods that sequester carbon from the atmosphere and draw it into their soils, where it nourishes the diverse microbial life beneath the surface of the earth.  This enhanced microbial network just so happens to be a prime environment for low-maintenance pasture and crops to thrive, which, in turn, offers an opportunity for livestock farmers to use their land to meet the high nutritional needs of dairy cattle. 

Will Rogers, of Rogers Farm in Warren, Massachusetts is following nature’s rules when it comes to managing his land and his herd of dairy cattle.  “We need to watch how nature works and mimic it.  We’re all based on biology, the food we eat needs to be grown by good biology to net a higher nutrient value food.” 

On February 12, 2020, 21 farmers from across Massachusetts drove in to the Statehouse to urge legislators to support the creation of a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program. Gathering in a briefing room, legislators, staffers, press and supporters of the bill heard comments from farmers.

Representative Schmid and Senator Comerford, lead cosponsors of S.2404, the Healthy Soils Bill, started the briefing. “This is amazing to us, that the interest and fascination with healthy soils has grown so quickly here in the State House, and it’s in large part due to your advocacy,” Rep. Schmid remarked to the those in attendance.

“I want to acknowledge your work to grow and expand the possibility of this bill and the impact of healthy soils on our Commonwealth. It’s a food security issue, it’s a farmer justice issue and now we’re rightly seeing it as a climate issue,” said Senator Comerford, adding “And I want to thank NOFA for really spearheading the organizing around this, the outside push. We want to do right by our Commonwealth, and people like you make us do it.”

For me, the arrival of the NOFA bulk order is, like the arrival of the seed catalogs, a harbinger of spring, and an opportunity to stock up on things I know I will use all season long. The bulk order also appeals to the Yankee in me, because I know I will get great prices, especially with the member discount, and loading up my pick-up with a season’s worth of soil amendments feels like thrift rewarded. There are hundreds of items to choose from, for the back yard or the back 40. Here are some favorites of NOFA farmers this year:

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

No matter how early I think about adding fall amendments, this job always falls to the bottom of the to-do list below some bigger priorities. Harvesting crops remaining in the field prior to frost, bagging up all the row covers, and removing all the poles and trellises, for example, all take precedence over the spreading of fall amendments.

Fortunately, this year I sent my soil test into Logan Labs in October, so after receiving the results, all I had to do was calculate the amendments I needed to order, order them, pick them up, and broadcast them on the fields.  If you have a Logan Labs soil test result, NOFA/Mass will analyze it and give you soil recommendations. You can see the details of that program here or check out this article to calculate your own amendment needs.  You can order a variety of soil amendments through the annual NOFA Bulk Order.

 

 

weed large garden bed

Soil test results are the key to planning your soil fertility program. Adding the right amendments in the right amount can dramatically improve your plants’ health and your garden’s productivity. But once you have your test results, it can sometimes feel daunting to figure out how much of a particular amendment you need to add to get to your goal--and I say that as a former math and chemistry teacher!

In this article, I will try to greatly simplify that process with a few conversion factors and formulas. With these, you should be able to use your results to easily figure out what you need to order—from the NOFA bulk order or elsewhere—and apply your findings to fine tune your garden’s fertility.

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