Turning a blank canvas in to a Warhol

Last month we took on some more land. Some of this is either protected or best suited to being left to the local ecosystem, something we’ll talk about in the coming weeks. However one field is in many ways perfect for growing. It’s big, it’s flat, it has a low weed burden. But when you look a bit closer the reasons for that last point become troublingly clear. It’s basically a bit dead.

Modern society is waking up to the dangers of the agricultural system we’ve developed and it isn’t for us to list them here. We’d recommend checking out the books Braiding Sweetgrass, Dirt to Soil and Entangled Life if you have the time, or just watching Kiss the Ground if you don’t. The part that’s most relevant for us is that decades of heavy tillage and pesticide use on this field has lead to low nitrogen levels and very low organic matter levels.

The crash course of why this has happened goes something like this – the majority of life in the earth is found under ground rather than above it. Much of this life is either constituted of or facilitated by fungi and bacteria, two things that pesticides, fungicides and herbicides kill. Think of it like your gut bacteria. Then think of what a pesticide might do to that. Another sure-fire way of disturbing life under the soil is to subject it to what is essentially putting it in a blender. Which is to say you till it. Both of these activities have been happening on this soil on a 6 monthly basis for a long time.

Enough doom and gloom. What are we going to do about it? Well we won’t be using any pesticides or artificial fertilisers for a start. The images you see next to this text are of lovely Mike. It looks like he’s doing what we just described, smashing the soil microbiome in to a pulp. But what he’s actually doing is using a seed drill. This cuts a little furrow in the ground, drops a seed in then covers that seed. It only disturbs the very top bit of the soil and allows us to plant a 26 seed mix across 11 acres in 4 hours. We also only have to do it once! This blend of seeds has been especially designed for our situation and includes a lot of nitrogen-fixing plants to pull N out of the air (it’s what air is mostly made of, after all) and bury it in its roots. It also includes a lot of nice forage for animals.

Animals you say? We’re in the process of building a small mixed herd (more on them in a later post) to come and eat said plants in the Spring, crap them and their nutrients back on to the ground and stomp it in. This is how it was done on the plains thousands of years ago and guess what? The soil bloody loves it.

Hopefully what we’ll be left with is happy, healed soil, that we can grow flowers on in a more harmonious way. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on how it goes.

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