It does not need to be a complex matter, but it does take time and a few resources to get you started.
First let’s review the 4 basic soil types: sand, loam, clay and silt ~
loam: is known to contain a mixture of clay, loam, sand & organic matter.
Sand: is the largest particle in the soil. It is rough when rubbed together; it feels like sand paper, because it has sharp edges. There are not many nutrients in sand.
Silt: is the size and texture between sand and clay. It is smooth and powdery; it does not get sticky when wet like clay.
Clay: is considered the heaviest of the soils. It can contain a lot of nutrients, but due to its density it does not let air through (anaerobic). It also does not drain well, unless amended for aeration. Even though clay may be hard to work with, its high nutrient value makes it an excellent choice as a base for building upon.
Clay mix soil is what most of us in the East TN region deal with in our gardens, so we will be discussing building our soils with a clay base in this blog.
If you wish to have your soil tested first it will enhance this blog post and will give you a good idea of what you will need for amendments in your specific area. Inexpensive soil testing kits can be purchased at your local garden centers or local home improvement store, or ordered online.
About No-Till or No-Dig Gardening:
Here at Orchard Creek Farm we practice No-till gardening, it is much healthier for the soil microbes, protozoa, worms, etc..And can be easily built upon. I utilize several composting methods to achieve my goals and adhere to the NOP standards. We are talking about small to medium size gardens here in both open small fields and raised beds. The type of no-till farming practices in large agriculture circles will likely lead to soil compaction since they run heavy equipment across the earth and kill off the worms with herbicides. In contrast, no-till management in a backyard garden leads to rich, healthy soil that grows nutrient dense, high brix food. No-till gardening can be achieved in a variety of ways; raised beds, garden plots, containers, etc...If you haven't considered using the no-till method, I would encourage you to research its benefits and disadvantages for your specific growing needs and area.
The materials you choose will determine the length and temperature they must be composted to meet the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. For a composted product to qualify under the NOP, it must start with a carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio between 25:1 and 40:1 and be maintained at a temperature between 131 degrees F and 170 degrees F for 15 days, during this time the material must be turned a minimum of 5 times. If the composted material is made this way, the compost can be applied to crops with no restrictions.
The NOP is very specific about the use of manures. Composted manure is preferred, but if raw manure is applied, then the timing of application is critical. Where raw manures are used on land growing crops for human consumption, it must be applied within 120 days of harvest for crops where the edible portion touches the soil, or 90 days of harvest where the edible portion does not touch the soil..
If the compost consists of only plant materials, it is considered plant waste and there are no restrictions on timing.
How to Build Organic Soil for the No-Till Garden:
Choose your planting site that is free of tree stumps, shrubs, etc..., don't worry too much about short grass or weeds. Begin with layers of newspaper, cardboard, shredded junk mail on the bottom to create a base directly on your soil. Begin mulching the area on top of the base with mulch materials like; animal manures (if you can get them free of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics), old straw, wood chips, pine needles, coffee grounds, wood ash & kitchen scraps. The idea is to get equal amounts of greens and browns, with the aim to get a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1, (this is what I personally aim for) Keep repeating this process until it is several inches thick (I prefer 6-12” for our area and let over winter), taking care to keep it moist, but not too wet. It will need several months, depending on depth and weather to decompose correctly and would then be ready for direct spring planting. Keep excellent records!
How to build soil for raised Beds:
In order to have the correct soil for raised beds try the layering method combined with either indigenous clay soil excavated from your yard or organic soil can be purchased at a materials company, or a local garden center. Use the same method above; cardboard or newspaper as initial base, then mulch material, then soil and repeat the process until beds are filled, keep moist not wet. Like a wrung out wash cloth is ideal.
How to build soil the conventional way:
Till the area you wish to plant, compost all your mulch materials in a compost bin or pile, they will take several weeks to decompose depending on air flow and moisture content. Again keep the pile moist, not too wet. When your mulch material smells like earth, is dark and it is finely composted till into your garden site. Create rows and plant.
Food For Thought- Did you know that GMO alfalfa, alfalfa meal and soybean meal is NOT PROHIBITED under the NOP?
Another interesting point is that, both bone meal and blood meal are also allowed under the NOP, even from NON-ORGANIC animals.
Organic farmers need to be careful with the materials they choose to compost for this reason.
Know your farmer, know your food!
We have been so busy this summer on the farm, that I haven't had a chance to write about whats going on. Well it is breeding season for one, and there is love in the air for our 4 legged goat family! Ha! I prefer to let them have their dates in the Month of October, so that we have babies in Spring, BUT sometimes this planning does not always work out. One of our Does decided that she really wanted to be the first to have her kids, so I decided to allow the date in a controlled environment. This makes a huge difference if you are wanting to know within a few days of when your Doe is expected to kid. I have always done planned breeding's so that I can keep track of when a Doe will kid and have a birthing area and emergency kit handy in case the Doe and/or kid/s, needs assistance. Keeping good records is an important part of a sustainable farm and not just limited to the stock, but also any other things produced on the farm. Good records are also imperative to the registering of your animals with livestock registries, and if you don't decide to register them, good record keeping will prevent inbreeding when selling unregistered stock to other farms. It takes effort, but it is well worth it in my opinion. The good news is that it does slow down a bit in the late fall and winter. As a person whom has lived and worked on a farm my entire life, I must say that my goal has always been to grow food and raise livestock with the seasons. It makes perfect sense to me that bucks go into the rut in the fall and kids are born in the spring. There are less insects in the cool spring weather, the parasite population is at its lowest in cool weather and the animals have the most stored fat and thicker coats in the winter months to protect themselves. I love goats, both dairy breeds and meat breeds. Goats are a pleasure to be around, they are curious, smart and friendly. They are the perfect homestead animal to have on a small or large farm. We are super excited to have babies again. We hope to be making cheese for our family next summer and making our wonderful goats milk soaps!. We still have lots of handmade soaps that I made from my herd of Nubian goats in AZ for ourselves that I brought with us when we moved, but our inventory is dwindling. We should have just enough bars to last until I can whip up some more! Nothing better than making and using your own products on a sustainable farm.
I first learned about making compost teas, foliar sprays and compost activators from a dear friend and garden mentor many years ago. After getting the hang of making simple recipes and experimenting with controls, using it on one bed and not using it on another bed of the same plant species, I became fascinated with the results! I was hooked on this somewhat new idea of increasing soil microbes and improving soil biology with activated aerated compost tea, (AACT).
First lets explain what compost tea is and how we can easily make it at home.
Compost tea is "liquid gold", a mild and organic fertilizer that will not burn plants.
It is made by taking aerated compost or worm castings and placing it in a sock (panty hose, paint strainer, etc..) suspended in a 5 gallon bucket of water with a air bubble pump to aerate, supply oxygen for microbial growth. You add feed to the water such as molasses, fish hydrolysate, humic acid, cane sugar, etc.. to feed and multiply the microbes that live in the compost or vermicompost (worm casting).
It is extremely important to aerate, supply oxygen to your AACT, all living organisms need oxygen to survive. If your tea does not get enough oxygen it becomes anaerobic and the BAD bacteria will multiply, which can cause, e.coli, root eating nematodes and disease boring organisms. It is also important to know which compost to use in your tea recipe. This will depend on whether you want to use the AACT on vegetables, fruit trees, conifers, etc..
Here is a short list;
Evergreen Trees- Highly Fungal
Deciduous Trees- Semi-Fungal
Most Vegetables- Bacterial
Brassicas- Very Bacterial
Fruits and Berries- Balanced fungal to Bacterial
The compost you choose will be the most important factor in determining whether you are making a bacterial-dominate tea, or a fungal-dominate tea.
Each type of compost are determined by their initial ingredients. Bacterial-dominated compost begins with materials that have a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N); whereas, fungal-dominated compost begins with materials that have a higher C:N.
Basically your main ingredient for a fungal AACT would be more woody materials, and the main ingredient for a bacterial AACT would contain more nitrogen, such as composted manures.
The food you feed your microbes is very important to maximize the micro-biology. Too much food can cause your AACT to go anaerobic. Too little will not allow the microes to replicate and multiply. There are tons of recipes out there. The good news is that if you end up putting a bacterial tea on a fungal loving plant, it wont hurt it, it just wont get the benefits it would have from a fungal tea.
A couple of recipes below;
Bacterial- Dominated Tea
1.5 pounds of bacterial-dominated compost (FRESH worm castings work well too)
1 Tablespoon of Maple Syrup or Cane Sugar
1 ounce of Fish Emulsion
2 Pounds of Fungal-dominated compost
(Add 1/2 Cup of Bran Flour or Steel cut oats to improve fungi)
1 Tablespoon of Fish Hydrolysate (dilute to neutralize the acid, according to the label)
1 Ounce of liquid sea kelp
Directions; Fill a 5 Gallon bucket with un-chlorinated water. Place the compost in a paint strainer. Get a stick and suspend the strainer in the center of the bucket, so that it does not touch the sides or bottom of the bucket. (see photo above) Dilute the fish emulsion or liquid kelp in a 1/2 cup of water, then add to the water and mix thoroughly. Place your air tubing on your air pump and place the tubing in the bucket of water, plug in the air bubbling machine and check for good aeration. Let the AACT brew for a minimum of 8 hours, the tea can be brewed up to 24 hours. As a matter of fact, some will say a brew can go for 36 hours. I have had great results with 16 hour brews. When your tea is done it can be used as a soil drench, foliar spray, and even a compost activator. I use all of the AACT tea water on my soil and plants and put the compost remains back into my original compost pile.
Thank for reading!
This is an improved design for a permanent sow farrowing shelter. We built this using scrap wood, the only things purchased were the metal for the roof which cost around $50.00 purchased as imperfections which saved a few dollars and the 4- 4x4 treated posts for the corners. If someone were to purchase the wood, it would cost around $72.00, which would include the nails and lag bolts used to secure the 2x6 boards on the bottom so that the sows can't pop them off rubbing against them. The improvement I speak of is on the bottom. Our previously built shelters on our other farm had straight closed sides, and on occasion we would have a sow lay on a piglet accidentally, because the piglets couldn't get out of the way of "BIG MAMA", so this time we thought about what we could do to improve this issue for future piglets. The new farrowing shed has 2x6's that will be removed and a 3 sided 30 " tall box with a hinged metal roof can be attached, so that the piglets can get into a safe space. It will have a heat source and the hinged roof will allow us to access the piglets to dip navels in iodine and care for them without stressing the sow out.
Commercial industry and some smaller farms use farrowing crates, photo below,
I personally DO NOT like these, I think they are cruel to the sow, they can only stand, sit or lie down. They are not even able to turn around. I do however understand that for the commercial grower it is about making a profit and therefore they are used to prevent the sows from lying on the litter and therefore a loss of profit. Up to 20% of pigs lost are due to them being crushed by the sow. My goal is to keep the piglets alive too, but with the use of a more natural rearing of the piglets and allowing the sow to move freely. The farrowing shelter above has an allowance of 6-8" between the bottom board and the ground on all sides, this should help tremendously allowing piglets to move out of the way.
We have only been on our new farm for
approximately 5 months now, we have accomplished quite a lot in this short amount of time! We purchased some laying Buff chicks, two out of the lot ended up being roosters, not too bad. One will be re-homed.
We built a chicken house back in late June.
The chickens were temporarily contained until we finished the parameter fencing. They are FREE now!
These laying birds will live up on this end of the property permanently to cruise under our heritage apple tree orchard that is being planted in the month March 2017. We have a heritage winesap apple tree that we are working to preserve with both seed and grafting.
Happy free roaming Chickens!
We will be adding 25 mixed laying breed chicks (my list of breeds is in an earlier blog) in early Spring that will go down in the bottom pasture to free roam for both insect control and egg production.
I am encouraging the growth of fungi, microbes, protozoa and tons more healthy bacteria in my compost piles! I have been diligently working on my no till beds and market garden fields.
The semi-dwarf Peach trees were planted in late June, they have done exceptionally well and have grown A LOT since planted!
My mulch piles are looking very healthy!
The dairy goat permanent fencing for rotational grazing is in place and they have been rotated 3 times already! They have constant, clean pasture and housing. I am growing fodder for all of the livestock and chickens this winter, it is packed full of nutrients that they really enjoy through the winter months along with their free grazing.
I am currently working on the NO-TILL market garden field, building soil for Spring.
Around 700 gourmet garlic bulbs have been planted for the 2017 harvest! I was a little late getting them in, but they should do fine. We are almost finished with the main cabin remodel. The guest cabin was completed. More photos and posts coming soon!
O.K., you can't live in the South and not eat biscuits!!! Here is a healthy (not)! biscuit recipe with a twist~ organic ingredients...
BTW, I LOVE these biscuits!!
Super easy and deliciously healthier biscuits
Experiment with whole grains too!
1 1/2 Cups Organic self-rising flour
3/4 Cups Organic Milk
2 Heaping Tbsp. Organic Mayonnaise
pinch of Sea Salt to taste
Mix and drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake at 450 Degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden! YUMMY!!
Here at Orchard Creek farm we implement permaculture design for a healthy and balanced ecosystem. To achieve our goals of healthy, balanced soils our hand tool of choice for our no-till farm is the broadfork. This tool is a hand tool used to break up and aerate the top soil without turning it under. A rototiller for example destroys the beneficial microbes and living organisms by tearing up and turning the soil over with blades. These organisms live with, in and between the soil particles. The pH balance, moisture content and soil pore size create different habitats for these living organisms, known as the "soil food web". This "soil food web" is made up of a multitude of living organisms; earthworms, bacteria, fungi, arthropods, nematodes and protozoa. Basically all soil life that can be eaten and broken down, makes up the "soil food web" cycle.
One of the best known good fungi for example is Mycorrhizae . We encourage the healthy growth of mycorrhizae. The broadfork is an excellent tool to use that will not destroy what we are trying to maintain, it also helps to suppress weed seeds that lay dormant under the soil, when rototilled these weed seeds come to the surface, a broadfork will keep the majority of the weed seeds dormant by not allowing them to come to the surface.
The broadfork uses your body to operate, and it is a workout like no other! I personally would much rather have the broadfork body workout and save my living soil than get vibrated to death and destroy my living soil with a machine.
Furthermore we spend no money for fuel or machine maintenance, which is another sustainable plus.
To maximize the roots and health of your plants and trees the soil needs to be aerated for nutrient and water penetration.
We can't wait till Spring to use the mighty broadfork again!.
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
All Veggies available from our farm in 2017.
Taste The Difference!!
Butternut Squash (6 Cups Cubed)
¼ C. Chopped Onions
¼ C. Chopped Celery
2 Cloves of Garlic
4 TBSP Real Butter
4 C. Chicken Stock (use from FRESH chicken from one of our CSA participating farms) :) So Delicious!
3 C. Water
2- 8 oz. Packages of Cream Cheese
Sea Salt and Pepper to Taste
Optional: Serve with a garden salad and crusty warm bread!
Picture above of our hogs in NE AZ. They foraged pinon pine nuts, limited grass, roots and grubs.
When I was growing up on our farm we always had pigs. The pig is my Dad's favorite farm animal, second to our cattle and at one time he ran between 30-40 hogs on 80 acres.
I started showing pigs in 4-H when I was 10 years old.
Pigs are very intelligent and inquisitive animals, they can actually be trained fairly easy to sit for a treat!
We have raised pigs both in large pens, rotated hot wire pastures and in the woods. There is no question in my mind after 35 plus years of caring for pigs, that the later is the only way to raise pigs.
Raising pigs in woodlots or on pasture is not a new concept. Hogs were being raised this way long before commercial, cemented floor confinement barns, farrowing crates and stinky unhealthy manure lagoons ever existed.
The key to raising these intelligent animals in the woods or on pasture is having enough space for intense rotation. One must be willing to move the hogs every 3 days, to achieve a healthy soil ecology.
The thicker and taller the forage, the more resilient the recovery of vegetation. One of my passions and goals on our farm is to ALWAYS balance with nature. Pigs will root and tear up the soil and can easily destroy trees by ripping out their roots, so erosion control is paramount when rotating hogs on either woodlots or pasture. Here in NE TN our pigs thrive on woodlots of acorns, black walnuts, blackberries and numerous other plant species and grubs in the forest. A good understanding of forest ecology and or pasture stands and the way nature heals itself and protects itself from the abuse a hog can have on them is highly suggested before venturing into raising hogs in this way. They can create a barren and ugly landscape with detrimental effects on other wildlife if not managed correctly. We supplement our hogs with healthy, NON-GMO grains, whey, milk, fruits and peas (legumes), as an added protection to soil health and for the over all health and nutrition that hogs require.
We plant food forests of natural food stuffs as well. A good foundation in hog nutrition requirements is recommended before mixing your own livestock feeds as well.
Raising pigs in open pastures or on woodlots keep the pigs super clean, pigs are very clean animals if given a chance with enough space. We take the stress off the animals with excellent nutrition and lots of space to root, stretch and get plenty of exercise, the pigs reward us with a tasty return. Some folks will ask us, "how can you eat something you raise"? My answer; "Wouldn't you rather know what your animal actually ate, how it lived and how it was treated?" The meat purchased in the typical store, (Unless labeled) has been raised in tight confinement for fast growth to make the fastest dollar, with no regard for the animals well being, pumped full of antibiotics because of the conditions they are kept in, they are fed cheap GMO corn and silage and given growth hormones. So with all that said, I would much rather have clean, happy, healthy pigs that live a good life and that don't require all of the hormones, antibiotics and GMO feeds to make a quick profit. We are interested in biologically healthy food that is grown naturally and slowly for the health of the animals and the humans consuming. Our breeding stock will live longer lives and are quite spoiled. They are given affectionate names and live out long lives with us. We do not breed them constantly either! We are not a pig mill. :)
We breed selectively for long living, healthy swine that have the ability to graze with shorter snouts.
Ecclesiastes chapter 3:1-2
Well here we are at that time of year already! The garden production has been slowly declining and we know the time is nearing to do the sometimes dreaded chore of cleaning out the garden areas and/or raised beds. I personally enjoy every aspect of farming and gardening! I am truly grateful to have reaped the rewards all season and eaten and shared the bounty of our blessings with others.
There is always a silver lining if we choose to see it!
O.k., enough pep talk! Lets get down to the business of cleaning out the gardens.
The very first thing I do at this time of year is to thoroughly check all plants for die back. Plants die back slowly at different rates, so cutting them out should be a gradual process to get the most out of the season. For example, we are still harvesting tomatoes, and the pumpkins are slowly ripening a few at a time and will continue to do so into October. So as you determine your individual needs and/or desire to keep your gardens going think about those plants that are still producing. A simple rule of thumb is, if its brown pluck it out. If it's green let it be.
I also allow my heirloom corn stalks to die and dry slowly in the field for later fall use as to be used as decorations.
A good thorough garden cleaning in the fall will really benefit your Spring plantings and lessen your chances of disease and insect infestations.
When I pull all of the brown plants out of their spaces, I BURN them ALL! Some folks compost these plant materials, I don't. The reason being is that I can not guarantee that insects that have layed eggs on undersides of leaves or in the plants themselves would be destroyed quick enough in a compost bin/pile. That's your call.
After I have cleaned all of the dead materials out, I then put clean added loose mulch layers around all of the "still green plants" to keep the ground from freezing too soon, this will help extend the season a bit and keep your plants healthy and thriving. Don't forget to water them as the days get cooler. Deep watering should be done in the morning, this will also help the plants stay healthy and believe it or not keeps them from freezing!
FOR RAISED BEDS:
On all of the raised bed areas of the garden that have been thoroughly cleaned out I place a 4 in thick layer of mulch or compost on top and I am done for the season! It's that simple.
An essential step for no-till growers and/or non-chemical use growers is the use of polyculture cover crops.
To accomplish this, simply clean out the area, prepare the soil and plant your cover crop seed.
What to plant in our area?
To achieve biomass, which helps to suppress weeds in the Spring and provides rich organic matter I use grains like winter wheat, barley and/or oats.
To provide the much needed nitrogen that is used up and/or depleted by leeching during the growing season I use; small legumes like peas and clovers. This combination mimics a natural ecosystem of self repair by nature if you will.
When to plant in our area?
The optimal time is between mid-September through October.
How to plant?
Lightly rake the area and scatter the seed either by hand or with a grass seed spreader (what I use). Application rates vary, so follow the directions on the bag or call your local extension agent? Rake the soil to lightly cover the seed, if the seeds are small, I water them in. Keep the seed bed moist until germination or wait for the next rain, and let nature do it for you.
In the Spring you can cut the cover crop down with a mower and let it decompose, then plant!
Happy FALL Cleaning!