Here at Wild Culture Farm we follow these 5 basic tenets for building resilient and healthy soils, as expressed by Farmer Gabe Brown.
- Minimize mechanical and chemical disturbance.
- Leave an “armor” on the soil surface (no bare or exposed soil).
- Increase plant diversity.
- Leave living roots in the ground as long as possible.
- Integrate animals and insects into the system.
Our priorities encourage biodiversity by tending and caring for our diversified ecosystems to maintain relationships of balance.
With these principals in mind, 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 for rich, fertile soil. By using these systems effectively and efficiently we expect to eliminate the need for outside inputs and when these systems become fluid, less labor is required.
We sow a wide variety of plants (multicropping), change what is planted in one area from season to season (crop rotation), and plant multiple crops in close proximity to encourage plant diversity, reduce weeds, and diminish pest pressure (intercropping). By rotating what is planted where we’re ensuring that the soil has time to regenerate and maintain health over time, replenishing 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 helps feed soil life by keeping living roots in the ground year around, 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 which helps maintain soil structure, supporting it to hold together and not erode in big rain events. Cover crops like clover, vetch, and fava beans are essential for strengthening soil fertility. This soil biodiversity helps create resiliency from pests and diseases.
Vital to the health of the soil is rotational grazing of livestock. Their inputs and behaviors play a major role in nurturing the ecological health of the land.
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 shells, rock and local kelp provide easily accessible minerals and calcium for soil microbes to break down and transfer to the 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 local waterways.
Instead of fighting against weeds, we let them grow up alongside the food crops. When they threaten resources like light and space, we take them back just enough, and where possible leave the cut plant material to enrich the top layer of soil. 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 the fields.
Our farming education and how we care for the land and grow food has been most informed and inspired by many generous caretakers of the earth. We have so much gratitude for their willingness to pass on their hard earned knowledge! An incomplete list of our mentors, some of their books, and many others line our farm library shelves and are available for farm interns to borrow and browse.
- John Jeavons of Grow Bio-Intensive
- Farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms
- Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm & author of Restoration Agriculture
- Gabe Brown
- Rudolf Steiner’s methods of Biodynamic Farming
- Allen Savory of The Savory Institute
- Eliot Coleman of Four Seasons Farm
- Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer at Le Ferme du Bec Hellouin
Get in touch if you are looking for local mentors (Northern California) in any of the methods you’ve read about here. We’d be happy to help facilitate connections that further regenerative and restorative methods while growing nutrient dense food.