Summer here on the farm is a time for observation. If you’ve ever planted a garden, you may have an idea of what I’m talking about. After planting those initial seeds, you’re probably out there at the least every other day, weeding and watering and watching. Waiting. The first sprout, the first leaf, comes with its own sense of accomplishment.
Organic farming is no different. We’re out in the fields regularly, monitoring germination and weed buildup. We’re scratching at the soil to check for moisture levels and look at the leaves for possible pest and disease issues. Observation is a huge part of organic farming. Because we don’t use chemicals, the success of our crops relies heavily on our observations and reacting before a problem becomes fully developed. We keep a dated and detailed record of what we see and use these notes to guide us in the future to come up with ideas for improving our production methods.
I’ve been an organic farmer for over thirty years and each year is different. Different weather. Different challenges. Different yields. But there are also different crops. Crop rotations are one of the most effective, natural solutions to many of the issues we encounter on the farm and a key component to organic farming.
So what do I mean by crop rotations? Crop rotations are exactly as they sound. We split up the farmland into fields, generally between 60 – 120 acres, and plant a different crop on each of these fields each year. So the fields of peas that we’re planting this year may be fields of wheat next year. Organic farming is not about forcing the soil to produce, it’s about caring for and nourishing the soil so that it can produce. There are a number of ways to do this and, while none of them are guaranteed, you get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t on your land and in your area. But crop rotations are pretty standard on any organic farm.
Crop rotations help discourage pests, reduce weed growth and the soil is better able to provide the elements each crop needs to flourish. Here on the farm we use a nine-year crop rotation cycle so that there are 4 years of soil building crops which are not harvested but turned back into the field to build and nourish the soil. These four soil building crops are sandwiched in between 5 years of cash crops (those raised for sale). Together they help keep the soil fertile with the use of nitrogen-building legumes, like peas, alfalfa and clover as well as non legumes like buckwheat which all help product viable, healthy and nutritious cash crops. Our cash crops are ancient wheat (Kamut brand khorasan and spelt), feed barley, hull-less barley for human consumption, safflower or oil, and pea seed and alfalfa hay for feed. In the end good results are the results of responding properly to good observations. Knowing the land and the crop are essential to successful organic farming.