The UN report released in August suggested that the way humans have been using land for forestry and farming is to blame for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2016. Many Canadian farmers have now adopted the zero-tillage seeding process recommended by the UN (nationally 59 per cent of all seeded farmland in 2016). This process sows seed in soil that is mostly undisturbed, preventing the deep penetration that releases the soil’s stored carbon into the atmosphere.
As we approach the end of our third year of farming at Deep Roots Farm in Yellow Point, we are heartily encouraged to see how much high-quality food can be produced in an organized farm system. I attribute this success to the Goldenrose’s skills as a farmer and to her practice of zero-till growing, replacing tillage with the simple use of a broadfork. Deep ploughing a field or garden bed not only destroys the soil structure and the soil food web of life, leading to soil compaction, but also brings weed seeds to the surface.
Once the soil warms up and is watered regularly the weeds take off and the grower’s life becomes a losing battle fighting weeds, which compete and steal nutrients from the food plants.
Goldie’s method for maintaining a weed free farm is to cover the pathways and unused beds with a black landscape fabric called Lumite. This is a tightly-woven fabric constructed of tough UV stabilized polypropylene, designed to allow the passage of water and nutrients enabling the soil to “breathe.” This groundcover offers exceptionable weed control while providing an aerated and healthy environment where plants can thrive. As well as limiting the growth of weeds, a bed covered with Lumite maintains an even soil temperature, which is much appreciated by heat-loving food plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and basil, when they are grown through it.
1 gallon white vinegar
2 cups Epsom Salts
1/4 cup Dawn Dish Soap (blue original)
Spray on weeds in the morning after the dew has evaporated.
As each crop is harvested the farmer adds amendments of manure and compost to the bed to rejuvenate it with organic matter. In some cases a green manure crop, such as buckwheat, is sown and turned under. As a result, it is possible to get as many as three successive harvests of fast-growing crops, such as lettuce, radishes, arugula and cilantro, in one season, and two harvests of slower growing crops, such as cabbage and broccoli. At planting time, fertilizers may be added to enhance productivity, such as organic alfalfa pellets for nitrogen or lime for the brassicas. Every time crops are removed without restoring organic matter, the soil nutrients are depleted, resulting in reduced fertility, decreased plant health and soil erosion.
The key to success in direct seeding crops is regular watering because seedlings are vulnerable at the initial stage of development. Every four-foot-wide farm bed is lined with four rows of drip watering tape, hooked up to a computerized watering system that delivers twenty minutes of water every day. Seeds are sown in a shallow furrow along the drip tape. There is no waste, as the water is delivered directly to the roots and none is lost to evaporation on a hot day, or left sitting on leaves of plants, encouraging powdery mildew, which can be common on squash and cucumbers.
Anyone who grows food knows that there are a host of pests waiting to wage battle with your food plants: aphids, flea beetles, weevils, cabbage white butterflies, carrot rust flies and slugs, to name just a few. This is where another protective row cover comes in handy in the form of Remay, a spun polyester fabric that covers the crop supported by wire hoops and held down by large rocks. This lightweight fabric keeps the insects at bay so we can grow perfect unflawed food without resorting to pesticides.
These days efficient farming methods rely on infrastructure when it comes to pest, weed and temperature control. Lumite and Remay are readily available at the garden centres, so perhaps do yourself a favour and adopt some wisdom from a successful farmer.
Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet, A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food and The Zero Mile Diet Cookbook, Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour Publishing) available at your local bookstore.