On this sometimes meandering journey of starting a farm from “scratch”, our priorities have been to encourage biodiversity by designing diversified ecosystems that work in harmony with nature and take full advantage of any waste to upcycle it into a resource. We follow no-till methods, plant cover crops, house and grow for pollinators, plant native hedgerows, and are continually creating and dispersing compost to attend to our tilth and grow rich, fertile soil. By using these systems effectively and efficiently we expect to reduce or even eliminate the need for outside inputs.
We sow a wide variety of plants (multicropping), change what is planted in one area from season to season (crop rotation), and plant two or more crops in close proximity to encourage plant diversity, reduce weeds, and diminish pest pressure (intercropping). By rotating we’re ensures that the soil has time to regenerate and maintain health over time as this provides the soil with a ‘rest’ period in which to replenish its micronutrients, microbes, and other vital components.
We are also able to introduce plants that fix nitrogen, the process of pulling nitrogen from the air and releasing it into the soil to improve soil health. This is usually accomplished by using companion plants and cover crops.
The use of cover crops provides shade and increases water retention in the soil. We grow cover crops next to or in rotation with food crops to both introduce nitrogen to the soil and create a root system to hold the soil together. Cover crops like clover, vetch, and fava beans are essential for strengthening soil fertility in natural process farming. Cover crops also help manage soil erosion, improve soil biodiversity, and help control pests and diseases.
We introduce beneficial microbes (like bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa) into the soil by applying compost tea, a handful of dry compost with nutrients soaked in water overnight. Finely crushed volcanic rock and powdered oyster shell provide easily accessible minerals and calcium for soil microbes to break down and transfer to our plants. This creates soil which helps plants build their own immune systems, and foregoes the need for chemical pesticides.
Crucially to regenerative farming, we don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides on the farm, both to protect the wildlife resident here, and to protect our local waterways.
Instead of fighting against weeds, we let them grow up alongside our food crops. When they threaten resources like light and space, we hoe or mow them back just enough, and leave the cut plant material to enrich the soils. Sometimes, we get a little help from goats and sheep to keep overzealous cover crops in check! We also utilize a multi-species rotational grazing scheme to maximize forage utilization, herd and pasture health, and best manage parasites. By resisting the urge to allow only the food crop to grow, we maintain biodiversity and enrich the soils while spending less time eradicating “undesirable” plants from our fields.
Our farming education and how we care for the land and grow food has been most informed and inspired by these generous caretakers of the earth. We have so much gratitude for their willingness to pass on their hard earned knowledge!
- John Jeavons of Grow Bio-Intensive
- Farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms
- Permaculturalist Geoff Lawton of Zatuna Farms
- Rudolf Steiner’s methods of Biodynamic Farming
- Allen Savory of The Savory Institute
- Eliot Coleman of Four Seasons Farm
- The Market Gardener Jean-Martin Fortier at Jardins de la Grelinette
- Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer at Le Ferme du Bec Hellouin
Soon after we moved to our farm, in addition to the mentors listed above, we consulted with local experts to better understand this undertaking and tackle it’s many challenges. Most consistently, we worked with Lydia Neilsen of Rehydrate the Earth. Lydia was a wonderful guide to mentor us on our journey to food self-sufficiency and transforming our home landscape into a thriving foodscape.