Local and Sustainable Soil-Building 101
...an approach to growing plant-foods that encompasses a respect for animals, the environment, and human health. Also known as "stockfree" "vegan organic" and "plant-based," this is a form of agriculture that goes further than organic standards, by eliminating the use of products that are derived from confined animals and by encouraging the presence of wild native animals on the farmland. (LINK: Intro to Veganics)
For many farmers\gardeners, if not most, fertilizing the soil means adding some type of manure and\or other animal-based products such as bone meal, fish meal, blood meal, feather meal, etc. Here at the Sharing Gardens, we are interested in developing, and demonstrating ways of growing food that uses local materials, gathered in a sustainable way with a gentle impact on the environment.
Here is our current method of building our soil-fertility - right in the paths of our greenhouses!
|"Vaganic" agriculture: good for the Earth, good for our health.|
Gathering Materials: Our method of gardening requires massive amounts of "organic matter" (leaves, straw, grass-clippings etc). In the many years since we started the Sharing Gardens (2009) we have developed relationships with the people in, and around our small town encouraging them to bring us these materials instead of burning them or sending them to the land-fill.
|One of our neighbors brings us many trailers full of leaves each Fall. He used to burn them. Now he uses some to mulch his own garden-beds but still has plenty of surplus to share with us.|
|Our land is over three-acres. We have left much of it as grass so that we can harvest this valuable resource. (LINK-Grass Clippings and Leaves for Soil Fertility). When we have surplus from mulching our plants, we spread it in the greenhouse-paths to feed the worms and micro-organisms.|
|Here's the sign we painted and set up along the road in front of our house for the 2018 leaf-drive.|
|As people donate their leaves, we hang the bags out to dry on a clothes-line in our greenhouse and roll them into bundles of 5-6. We feel strongly about minimizing the use of plastics so any time a bag can be re-used is a real bonus!|
|We set up this station in our front yard. The trash-can has bundles of leaf-bags for re-use.|
Spreading materials: Since our method of creating soil is cyclic, we could begin at any point in the process but if you are just getting started, the first step is to spread the materials. We begin this process at the end of Autumn as we are dismantling the tomato-cages, pulling up pepper-plants and weeding the beds in preparation for the following Spring.Please no animal waste, trash or sticks/branches, no holly or roses (too sharp), or black walnut leaves (they can kill plants - LINK). Just leaves and grass 😊.
|Here is a greenhouse path that has been "harvested" of its worm-compost. It is ready for new materials to be added.|
|After cleaning all of last season's plant material out of the beds, cutting it into small pieces and laying it in the paths, we cover it with layers of leaves or straw, or whatever we have available.|
|One of our neighbors thatched his lawn and brought all that wonderful grass "hay" for us to use. Here is a college student/volunteer spreading it by the tub-full.|
|Llyn, spreading fresh grass-clippings on top of straw.|
The need for sides on your beds: With this method, it is important that your paths and beds be separated with sides so your soil doesn't mix with the materials in the paths.
|Chris has made many of our greenhouse beds with recycled fence-boards held in place with stakes driven into the ground. We have used plywood ripped into six-inch strips too.|
|This picture was taken in April. Note fresh grass-clippings in center and right pathways. Straw has yet to be covered with grass on left-pathway. Llyn is watering the bed of lettuce and waters the paths too, to help in the decomposition process.|
|Here, Chris scoops up the compost with a flat, hand-trowel. We collected fourteen, five-gallon buckets from this one, forty-foot path!|
|A flat shovel works well too.|
|This homemade sifter works well to remove large material and give the finished product a uniform texture. The screen is made with "hardware cloth", a wire-mesh with 1/2" holes.|
|After sifting, we often store the worm compost in re-purposed pellet-stove plastic bags. Storing them in this way preserves the material's moisture.|
If you don't have access to previously-used soil, there are many recipes on-line for making your own. Typically they include coconut coir (a more-renewable resource than peat-moss) and sand or perlite - so the soil drains well, and compost for fertility. Use the worm-compost outlined in this article in place of the regular compost.
|Seedlings in our home-grown soil, Spring 2018.|
|Chris spreading a layer of worm-compost in greenhouse beds. Note last year's tomatoes and other plant material in pathways (before we've added leaves on top). Excellent worm food!|
|Through the early winter months, we hand-dig these amendments into the soil. This provides a pleasant activity during inclement weather...|
|...and a nice time for socializing.|
|In early Spring, once we begin mowing the grass again, it makes a nutrient-dense mulch directly on the beds. Worms love fresh grass-clippings and will migrate to beds where it has been added.|
|Tomato-plants systematically being cut-up into the paths. The fallen tomatoes and weeds in the bed to the left of Llyn will also be scooped out/dug up and put into the path to feed the worms.|
|Layer, after layer, we build up the organic-matter in the paths.|
|This includes straw (if we have it) and grass-clippings.|
|The process is an endless cycle, creating soil-fertility from local and veganic materials.|
|This method of growing, yields nutrient-dense, delicious food!|