Route 27, Belgrade, Maine · 207-649-3331

Always leaving it better than we found it!

IMG_4611 This is important, really though we came on to the farm 17 years ago, and always our decisions are based on will this leave the farm better than we found it? Even the house and its improvements are based on this concept. We have several soil types all within our 40 acres. The “nicest soil” is at our Christmas tree lot, go figure. They call those soils” soils of state wide importance”. Christmas trees will basically grow in any soils, with little care and they will be quite prolific. On the other hand where the vegetables are planted are average soils, and the flower garden at the house started out as basically sand. So to achieve good results in farming, it is all about the soils, if not “all”, at least on the top 5 list. Weather and pests and weed pressure play a large role too.

Deciding to farm with animals played a huge role in decision making, was it the animals that came to improve the soils, or did we decide to farm with animals to improve our soils. Either way, the animals manures are composted with leaves and grass clippings and sea weed. Then we spread it liberally on the gardens, we have been taking bi-annual soil tests and comparing our soil tests now from way back when we started. It is a glorious improvement. The animals role in our soil improvement is significant, is it necessary? Nope! not all farms have this endless supply of animal manure and they are able to achieve great soils, its all in how you do it and what works well for your system. I really do think about options for me as a farmer and farm owner and what direction I will go with all of this, when the kids have moved on to their own interests. Caring for boat loads of animals is not at all on my wish list, so coming up with alternative ways of continuing to improve our soils will be a important decision. Another decision is do we till or not, so rototilling season after season, is hard on soils, each time you run that heavy equipment over your soil is hard on it, then mixing it all up and breaking down, the natural order of the microbes that are naturally occurring in the soil, is not good at all. Farmers have many resources to explore this exciting method of farming known as no-till. We are at least 50% no till on our farm. The two green houses and the herb garden and the flower garden are never tilled, we simply add compost twice a year to the top of the beds, and plant a cover crop at the end of the seasons, we do keep them covered with mulch throughout the growing season to control the weed pressure, and what a treat it is working in that soil, soft and loose and brimming with nutrients. And the plants do really welly in such rich, happy soils. Lots of foliage growth and flower/vegetable production from each strong plant.

This season will be our 12th year of growing vegetables, many learning curves and lessons learned. It is challenging to grow good food. But I love the challenge and there is so many way’s of achieving the same results, I like searching for the right components that work with our soils.

The cover crop topic is a fun one, the purpose of a cover crop is to keep the soils covered during crop rotation or during the off season months and it add nutrients depending on the cover crop determines what the nutrients will be. we have planted winter rye after we have removed the plant debris at the end of the growing season, we let that grow and till in what is remaining in the spring, or plant directly in it. we have also planted oats, peas and vetch, and the same idea. This year I would like to try buckwheat, plant it in the spring, when its about 2″ high mow it down, that will kill it then direct seed directly into the buckwheat mulch, you will have a nice thick mulch to suppress weeds and nutrients.

There is just so many ways to get it done.

That’s why I love to farm.

Farmer MaryHowell-9