Saturday, August 30, 2008

Biochar - Creating Habitat for Soil Microorganisms

While at the NOFA Conference this past August, I attended a workshop presented by Doug Clayton and David Yarrow on the potential of Biochar, a stabilized form of carbon, to help with soil health and carbon sequestration. I had listened to David speak on the same topic last year and was curious to learn of new developments. It seems there has been quite an activity surge around the topic, from backyard experiments to university led research. Using biochar (basically charcoal) that has been soaked in a nutrient solution (fish fertilizer which is locally available along the Southcoast??) could help bolster the soil health. Both through creating an environment well suited for microbial growth and development (the nooks and craters of the char have been called a "coral reef" for soil life) and also providing a substance to adsorb nutrients in the soil.
The topic is pretty exciting, I had done a bit of background reading last winter in NY and it struck me as a great item to include in future research development. Perhaps this fall we'll begin to amend a few beds for test purposes next growing season. Anybody on the southcoast interested in learning more and experimenting please contact me.

A brief list of Biochar websites:

Biochar International
Johannes Lehmann, Cornell Professor's Website on Biochar
Biochar Discussion List

Biochar provides one more hope for the goal of building dynamically healthy soils capable of producing nutrient dense produce. The foundation for balancing soils chemically was research completed by the late William Albrecht, a soil scientist at the University of Missouri. A prolific writer, Albrecht often hi-lighted the connection between soil health/fertility and personal health. The Soil and Health Library has a number of articles authored by Albrecht available for free downloading. Albrecht was one of many important voices who have contributed to a historical body of knowledge that I rely upon as a young farmer when considering the necessary steps to building soil health.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Know Your Vegetables - Conversation Series

This fall we will beginning a free conversation series for the local community here on the farm. We'll be meeting monthly to discuss different methods and ideas central to growing healthy food. For more information please download the .doc file located under Community Happenings on the sidebar.

The first meeting will be held on Monday September 15th at 6:30 PM. We'll demonstrate how to take soil tests, learn how to interpret soil test results, and also discuss useful Fall Cover Crops (oats, peas, rye, vetch, clover) and sowing rates and methods. Although the workshops will be free, we ask that folks rsvp to Derek Christianson.

On another note, this past Monday we received quite a downpour on the farm. I was heading into New Bedford, for a meeting to discuss the support of community garden development, when the heaviest rain fell. The flooding in New Bedford has been well documented by The Standard Times. Including the thunderstorm that swept through early Tuesday morning we received just under 5'' of rain in less than 24 hours. That much rain can be a lot to ask for a soil to take in, but by late in the day on Tuesday muddy conditions were all that was left to show of the storms. The storms were easily the most rainfall I've experienced in a short stint while farming. The rain will push us to harvest our current plantings of carrots that will be tempted to split with the heavy addition of soil moisture.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Working to Grow Nutrient Dense Foods

This past weekend, Katie and I had the opportunity to attend the 34th annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. We attended a wide variety of workshops, caught up with old friends, and enjoyed two great keynote speeches.
On Saturday night we listened to Mark McAfee, a raw milk dairy farmer from California who has been a national advocate for expanding legal raw milk sales throughout the country. Since leaving Hawthorne Valley Farm in New York this past winter we have been enjoying raw milk from a small herd located just down Tucker Road at Paskamansett Farm.

On Friday night Dr. Arden Andersen presented a talk on: Real Medicine, Real Health Begins in the Soil. In his speech, Arden presented results from medical research connecting health benefits to consumption of high-quality food. It was exciting to hear from a voice who has been working to help farmers grow nutrient dense foods for many years. I came across the topic of nutrient density a few years back while reading an article in Acres USA, and have been actively seeking out more information and background on what could potentially become the next food revolution in America.

For a nice introduction to nutrient dense foods I would suggest reading an interview published in Wise Traditions, a quarterly-journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Growing nutrient dense foods and building a healthy soil that can sustainably produce delicious vegetables is one of our biggest goals at Brix Bounty Farm. In addition, I hope to engage our local community in considering our gardening and agricultural practices and what steps we can take toward increasing nutrient density in our local food supply. To this end, we will be hosting a free conversation series beginning in September titled "Know Your Vegetables." More on this in a upcoming post.