“Messy” Farming

by on May 18, 2013
in Farm Life

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We’ve been asked lots of questions about our method of farming, like:

 

Are you organic?

 

Are you biodynamic?

 

Do you use permaculture principles?

 

Are you a seed saver?

 

Have you ever heard of Jon Jeavons or Joel Salatin?

 

The truth is that we approach the farm the same way we approach education: There is something to be learned from all of these methods.

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We don’t prescribe to just one method with undeviating devotion.  Just as the seasons move forward and change we are always growing, changing, experimenting with what works, finding what doesn’t, and applying our knowledge in new ways.

 

We utilize many of the principles espoused in biodynamics, permaculture, and the bountiful gardens methods.

 

I had the pleasure of walking through part of the results of these methods this morning.Wild, native chamomile, broccoli blossoms, kale blossoms, and a host of other wildflowers were gently bending to and fro in the cool breeze.

 

 

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When we first broke ground in the garden we had a couple of neighbors who were irate with us.

 

They prophesied massive soil erosion and subsequent flooding and mud damage that would ensue in the months that followed.

 

We tried to explain our methods to them, but they were already irritated and we weren’t planning on changing our model just to capitulate to their fears so the conversation was a dead-end.

 

I’m hoping now that we are heading into our fourth year in the garden hopefully their fears have been allayed by the fact that no flooding or mudslides have attacked their properties.

 

Every Spring we till the garden until the beds look like what you see here.

 

We cultivate the gardens two or three times during the garden season and then we let everything  grow as it likes.

 

 

Which means that we sometimes look “messy” out in the garden. In the Midwest our local farm extension office called it the “Farm Ugly Program”.  They encouraged the farmers to leave as much crop residue on top of the soil as possible to prevent wind and rain erosion of the top soil. Plowed fields look great, but it doesn’t conserve soil. And in the rolling hills of Missouri, where we farmed, soil conservation was a top priority.

 

So we don’t espouse perfectly weed-free garden rows.  For several reasons.

 

1. By the time we’ve cultivated three times our vegetable plants are large enough to withstand the “competition” of the wildflowers and clover that keeps coming back.  They are no longer in danger of being shaded or overrun by the weeds.

 

2.  Every plant that grows in the garden will later be turned into the soil as a green manure crop to feed the microbes which will in turn feed our garden next year.  The more plants we have to turn into decomposing, organic matter the healthier our little microbe crop will be.  We are first, last, and always soil farmers before anything else.  For farmers the land is everything.

 

3.  If enough plants are growing, with good healthy root systems, when the heavy rains of autumn and winter come we won’t lose any of the soil we have worked so hard to improve.

 

4. The more plants we let grow to the “messy” stage of blossoming the more food is available for our bee hives.  They need the blossoms and the closer the blossoms are to their hive the more honey they will be able to produce.

 

5.  Most garden vegetables will give you multiple harvests if you let them keep growing.  The blossoms of many vegetables are wonderful to eat.  They typically taste like a milder form of the vegetable itself and can be eaten in salads, stir-fries, and even in soups.

 

Here is our “Messy” farm today:

 

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I sometimes wonder as I walk through the overgrown rows what our friends and neighbors must think of our methods.  There are no nice, neat rows visible.  It looks like it’s all weeds, most wouldn’t realize that we still harvest greens,  blossoms, and even some roots out of this.  You can’t see the irrigation lines or the raised beds under all those blossoms.

 

In another few weeks all the green will be in the soil, the small seedlings that are growing now in the propagation house will be planted, watered, and tended, and the drip tape will go back in place and we’ll gently rake the soil to keep it weed free long enough to let the young plants get a start.

 

For now we prepare, we plan, and we wait for sunny days and warmer nights.  And while we wait the garden still grows, the soil thrives, the bees feed, and our “messy” garden does the work God meant for it to do.  Some days it is simply pure pleasure to be a farmer.  Today was one of those kinds of days.

 

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Comments

One Response to ““Messy” Farming”
  1. 1
    Janice DeMille says:

    I just read through this was was thrilled. You are all doing a wonderful work! We’re proud of you and think the Lord must be too. Love, Mom & Grandma