This time of year, as we are working in the fields, we can see and feel the quality of the soil, and the benefit that the work from years past has made on our fields. Our goal each season is to grow the most nutritious food possible. We accomplish this through dedication to soil health. Over the past 10 years we have done this by pasturing animals on our fields, allowing them to till up the soil, and leave their rich manure; pigs, chickens, goats, cows and turkeys have all left their mark. After we rotate them, we till and sow cover crops; such as buckwheat, oats, and rye. We leave these crops to grow through a season. The following spring we till again and make beds.
For years, we mulched with eel grass to conserve water and prevent weeds from germinating. The eel grass was broad-forked in the following season; and began to break down, making a nutrient rich soil full of important elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium; plus trace minerals that our soil is often lacking. Unfortunately, eel grass has all but disappeared from our local shores, and no one who I have spoken to knows why. I have heard that it might be due to the invasive green crab, or increasing water temperatures. While we have not been able to dress our fields with eel grass the last 2 years, we do apply fish emulsion to all of our seedlings, and then again when we plant out in the fields, as a foliar spray. We have found that strong healthy plants are more resistant to disease and insect pests, and our yields are much greater when we take care with our seedlings from the very beginning.
Our work is multi-layered and human powered. We use broadforks to aerate and break up the soil each spring, we weed by hand or with stirrup hoes, we scythe down cover crops so that we don’t compact our soil with tractors. We very rarely till the fields; instead building up the soil with compost, cover crops and amendments. Last year our friend Tim Johnson, who has spent most of his life working on the water, brought us boatloads of finely ground muscle shell that he found along the shores. By hand, we applied this to many of our beds, as a source of calcium that will break down slowly over many years. We also purchased crabshell flour to add to our compost as a quick, natural source of calcium.
I was introduced to biodynamics in college, and have been intrigued with the practice and philosophy ever since. Biodynamic Farming practices came out of the Agricultural lectures Rudolph Steiner gave to farmers in the 1920’s. Even then, he could see the destructive consequences that chemical fertilizers and pesticides were reaping on the environment. Steiner believed that soil health was intimately connected with human health. He also believed that we would not be able to address health and educational problems in our children, until we addressed the quality and health of the soil. Each day we consult the Biodynamic calendar (based on the work of Maria Thun, which looks at the effects of the moon and planets on plant and animal health) to see which type of plant day it is; leaf, fruit, root or flower. We try our best to start seedlings such as onions and beets on root days. Lettuces, spinach, kale, and chard are best planted on leaf days. We harvest potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes on root days. We make herbal preparations such as chamomile and valerian flowers, applying these to our compost piles. We stir them into warmed rain water; applying them by hand with a broom or pine bough to distribute drops throughout the fields. These “remedies” work like homeopathic medicine on the soil.
Finally, each year we make compost with manure from our milk cow, steers, garden refuse, seaweed, eggshells, and food scraps. We turn the pile and check the temperature to see if it warms enough to break down and kill weed seeds. While we try and make as much as possible each year, it is not enough to cover our 3-4 acres of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit trees. This year we are working with We Compost It (www.wecompostit.com), and are excited for our first delivery of their compost this spring.
We believe the outcome of our hard work and dedication to soil health shows in the vibrant food we grow and share with our community.
Our friends at We Compost It are raffling off a Milkweed Farm Share in May. If you sign up for their curbside pick up of your food scraps, you will be automatically put in the raffle. We Compost It just started offering this service in Brunswick, and is currently working with our local schools, Bowdoin College and local businesses. They will supply you with a bucket and pick up your compost weekly, for a charge of $9.75 per month (if you sign up for a year of service). This takes all of the food that would normally be put into plastic bags in our landfills, and turns it back into rich soil. This is good for the environment and for our communities. To sign up or to read more about the company, follow this link. http://www.wecompostit.com/annualbrunswick.
See our 2015 Milkweed Farm CSA Application for more information