On this sometimes meandering journey of starting a farm from the ground up, the 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 the 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.
Not to be underestimated, the rotational grazing of livestock plays 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 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 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 the 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! All of their books, and many, 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
- 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 here, in addition to the mentors listed above, we consulted with local experts to better understand this undertaking, guide us as conscientious stewards of the land, and tackle its many challenges. We’ve made so many wonderful contacts on our journey to food self-sufficiency and transforming our home landscape into a thriving foodscape. And, of course, we will never cease being students of farming!
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 of caring for the planet and its life forms, now and into the future.