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Keeping Fertility on the Farm

So I’ve been reading Mini Farming by Brett Markham, which is kind of an amazing book because it manages to take small-space intensive agriculture, which is a subject that I find absolutely fascinating, and turn it into one of the most godawful boring things on the planet. Seriously, Mr. Markham may be great with plants but his prose is seriously dry and plodding and tedious. How, I ask you, can you make compost boring? How is that even possible?

But one thing he said really resonated with me, which is this: keep the fertility on the land. When you grow a plant, there’s a lot of it you don’t harvest. Think of pea vines: you eat the pods, but then what do you do with the vines? Or corn, what happens to the stalks after you harvest the ears? These plants have taken nutrients from your soil, and wasting the part you didn’t eat just means you’re depleting the soil that much faster. Which is one reason we compost: to turn plants back into dirt, which will grow more food for us.

Once you start composting everything, you start seeing everything as soil nutrients brought in or going out (review post on modern composters). We don’t grow most of the feed for chickens and goats, we buy it. And then we compost the goat and chicken poo. Voila, a net gain of soil productivity, a transfer from the farmers who grew the grains that make the feed or who grew the hay to us. Then again, we also run the plants we grow through the goats and chickens whenever we can before composting. The goats in particular will help things along by breaking down the cellulose of the plants in their amazing rumens before we put it on the compost pile in the form of goat poo.

This is probably a slight loss of fertility from the soil, transferred from dirt to plants to animals to compost and then back to dirt, but on the other hand it does ensure that whatever we grow in our soil feeds us even if we don’t eat it directly ourselves, by nourishing the beasties who provide us with milk and eggs and meat. Om nom nom. And there’s always those imports of soil nutrients in the form of goat and chicken feed to think about.

Our garden is also small enough right now that we are going to have a kind of amazing surplus of compost when it comes time to dig more through our beds, which is nice because it means we will also have some to spare for some of the more blighted areas of the back acre. The back acre is where the goats are pastured and the chickens we allow to free range (because we’re mostly OK with the fact that they might get eaten by something not us) go, and it would be nice to be able to grow good fodder for them back there, which they will then deposit in the form of manure, which will melt into the soil, which will grow more fodder, and the amazing cycle goes on. (review website on modern Permaculture).

One thought on “Keeping Fertility on the Farm

  1. […] in 2012 I also wrote about keeping soil nutrients on the farm. That brief post still holds true: every product of the farm that leaves takes some of our soil […]

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