Gaardening with Native Plants DIY Guide

The DIY Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants

Last month we shared with you the benefits of gardening with native plants.  This month we’re happy to introduce a basic “how to” for getting started. Choosing to landscape local will take a bit of time.  The rewards will be many as local critters find a comfortable spot to live, the water bill goes down, and your yard flourishes.

Don’t feel like you have to overhaul your entire yard either.  You don’t have to go tear out your beautiful Japanese Maple or majestic Redwood because they’re not local. Even making the switch with a couple of plants or one small section will have an impact.

Gaardening with Native Plants DIY Guide

The DIY Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants

Pick Your Plot

What you choose to use will depend on the area of the yard you’re working in.  Select the area first of all. If you’ll be converting the entire yard, work in zones.  Consider th sunshine, soil quality, water drainage, and traffic through the area. If it’s a space kids or the dog will trample through often- make sure to keep that in mind.

Also, think about a way to make it unique.  Perhaps you can include a bee sanctuary in the back corner of the yard no one uses.  It’ll keep the family safe from any stings and provide a needed home for your bees. Or a butterfly habitat outside the family’s favorite reading window or in front of your bedroom.  Then you can enjoy it indoors and outdoors.


Consider Color, Maintenance, Critters, and Food

Before researching, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want specific colors in my plot?
    • How many colors?  
    • What shades of green do I like?
    • What might add or, or detract from, the curb appeal of my home?
    • Are there colors I’m always commenting on when I see plants and flowers in nature and other’s homes?
  • How much maintenance do I want to do?  
    • Do I want my yard to take care of itself or can I spend extra time in the garden?
  • What critters do I want to attract to the yard?
    • Should I build an entire section to attract bees?
    • Do I want to bring in butterflies, birds, bees, or a specific species?
    • Am I ok with deer, rabbits, and squirrels coming around?  
    • Where is the best shade and water availability for critters?
    • Can I bring in water or food somehow for them?
    • How will I protect my garden if I’m bringing in more critters to my yard?
  • Should I include local and wild edibles?
    • Is there a specific food from the Farmer’s Market I’m always finding myself buying that I could include?
    • What are some unique native edible options in my area?
    • Do I want to include fresh herbs or greens?
  • Do I want any medicinal herbs or remedies?
    • During your research phase, think about any medicinal and healing herbs you use.  Are any of them local to your area?

Research Phase

There are thousands of native plants to North America.  Take time to research what is local to the country, the region, the state, and hyper-local to your community.  We’ve provided resources below to help you with this. With so many options available, it could be easy to get sucked in.  As you research, make sure to narrow it down to what works well in the specific growing conditions and desires outlined above. 

Additional Considerations: 

Gardening With Kids

If you have children, make sure to take them into consideration.  Perhaps include something they can climb, hang a hammock from, or make into a fort.  Think about including local berries, a local veggie, or a fruit tree. That way they can grab a snack while they’re outdoors and keep on playing! 

Invasive & Fast Growth

Unfortunately, some plants are invasive or rapid growers.  This is especially true of weeds- which are often valued as herbal remedies!  If you have a favorite weed such as purslane or nettle, consider using a container instead.

Cost

If you’re on a budget, be careful of what you pick.  Most local options should be inexpensive but rare or endangered plants might cost a pretty penny.  Try checking out Craiglist (or post a wanted ad yourself), locally owned garden centers, or the local farmer’s market.  Asking around to local farmers can be a great way to landscape for free or cheap.

This is NOT Xeriscaping

The xeriscaping trend has slowed down a bit.  It’s important to note using native plants is not xeriscaping.  In many climates, this particular gardening approach has proven to be harmful.  For most regions, this is not a beneficial way to landscape. It has killed countless lawns, sent away local critters, and caused a lot of other problems.  If you’re in a dry climate and want to xeriscape, make sure to do research with one of the suggested resources below first.

Get Gardening

Once you’ve decided what you want to include and where- it’s time to get started.  Take it slow and steady. Remember there will be more maintenance in the first few weeks as everything gets accustomed to its new space.  Don’t forget plenty of water for you and your new plants. Make sure to follow guidelines for depth, soil drainage, sun, and spacing. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your beautiful yard.

Resources

Visit your local garden center to see if they have any courses available.  Local libraries, community centers, and community garden projects also offer these courses on occasion. 

For organizations, check out Wild Ones.  They have chapters in over a dozen states and are growing.  Wild Ones exists to educate the public on gardening with natives and native plant preservation.  

The American Horticultural Society has a native plant society in every state and Canadian province.

Last, The National Wildlife Feration has an entire “Garden for Wildlife” focus.  This includes a whole section on Native Plants with informational articles, regional examples, and a plant finder tool.

10+ Benefits to Gardening with Native Plants

10+ Benefits to Gardening with Native Plants

10+ Benefits to Gardening with Native Plants

Spring has finally arrived for most of us.  While the stray snow shower may fall on our mountain friends, most of us are thawed out!  Spring and early summer bring along the gardening season. A growing trend is landscaping with native plants.  This is a trend that’s beneficial not only for our planet. Your wallet, yard, local animals, and the bees all benefit when we choose to garden with local plants.  

What are native plants?

It may seem silly to include this section.  Stay with me. There’s an important difference here between natives and wild plants.  Native plants naturally occur in your area. Typically they’re not considered to be an invasive plant.  While there may be a specific plant that grows prolifically in your area, it may not necessarily be considered a native plant.  

How native you choose to go in your garden can vary.  Some gardeners prefer only local plants to their specific geographical region.  Others are ok with those naturally found in the ecosystem but from a different geographical area.  While other gardeners aim for a collection from throughout their state. In states with a wide variety of ecosystems, careful consideration should be taken into account when deciding what your goals are.
Do a bit of research before starting a new landscaping project.  Make sure you’re wanting to use non-invasive species. If you want to use an invasive plant, such as blackberry, you’ll want to plan your landscaping according to keep it from taking over.

Hint- Come back next month for our Guide to DIY Landscaping with Native Plants

What are the benefits of gardening with native plants?

Choosing to shop local, support farm-to-table food, and use native plants all go together.  We can support our local economy, ecosystem, air quality, water usage and more with these choices.  Dozens of benefits of “planting local” exist. A few of the benefits include:

  • Less water usage– After plants are established they typically require little water other than natural rain and snowfall.
    • Most are also be drought tolerant and able to survive much longer (in some cases months to years!)

  • Fire resistant– In areas where fires are common, these plants are sometimes fire resistant.  These can be used as a barrier around homes and property lines.
  • Nourishes the soil– Natives provide valuable nutrients to the soil of the region.
  • Deep roots– The roots are already adapted for your soil.  They’ll dig in deep and thrive.
  • Money savings– Typically these are cheap, or free.  You’ll also save money on your water bill!
  • Time-saving– You’ll be able to invest much less time in lawn maintenance.
  • Provides habitat to animals– Local critters were designed to live in harmony with what grows around them.

  • Enhance local scenery–  They’re already adapted for your area, they’ll be beautiful in your yard.
  • Easy to grow– These babies will thrive with a little bit of support- no green thumb required!
  • Helps birds and bugs– Local plants attract local bugs.  Local bugs attract and feed local birds.
    • You’ll get the added benefit of beautiful birds in your yard too!
  • No fertilizer required– in most cases, once a plant is established they’ll take little to no fertilizer.
  • Food for bees– Our bee populations are suffering worldwide.  Providing bees with a natural food source is incredibly beneficial.

  • Air purification– providing cleaner and healthier air for us all to breathe.
  • Fewer pests, diseases, and death– you’ll be planting something already used to all that comes its way in your region.  They’ll be able to stay strong and resist pests and disease much easier.
  • Decreased carbon footprint– The benefits of this are many.  We encourage you to learn more about this fascinating aspect.
  • Chemical-free gardening– No need for pesticides, fertilizers, or chemicals.

Restore balance- When we put all these benefits together, we restore balance.  Provide your local ecosystem with a renewed balance that traditional gardening practices have stolen away.  Even a couple of beautiful natives in your front-yard to boost curb appeal can have a huge impact.

Make sure to join us in July for a how-to guide on implementing this in your own garden.

Thinking about bunnies or chicks for Easter? Read these tips first!

The Top Considerations Before Giving a Bunny or Chick This Easter

Make no mistake about it, videos of children finding baby bunnies and chicks awaiting them on Easter morning are adorable.

Not much is cuter than a fluffy little chick or a bunny with big, floppy ears. Combine that with squealing children and you’ve got yourself a memory to last a lifetime…

basket of Easter eggs
This Easter, you may want to stick to hard boiled eggs instead of bunnies and chicks!

A memory to last a lifetime until that cute little critter starts to grow, stink, need attention, and is no longer new and exciting.  Then what? Unfortunately, thousands of bunnies and chickens die or are severely neglected as the result of a gift the family was not prepared for.  Most shelters report that 70-80% of their rabbits are abandoned Easter gifts. If this is a gift you’re considering giving, please take into consideration the long-term impact on the animal and your family.

The Top Considerations You MUST Take Into Account Before Giving a Bunny or Chick This Easter

 

  • Bonding- Both of these animals are social animals.  They do best with a strong bond to other animals like themselves, and to their caretakers.  This will mean an incredible amount of work on your end. You won’t be able to toss them in a crate in the yard and watch them thrive.  It’s also best to have at least two rabbits and at least 6+ chickens. This accounts for a lot of care over the years!

  • Housing- Rabbits and chickens have very specific housing needs.  In order to be cared for in a humane and ethical way, you’ll need to put in a lot of work.  Their homes require frequent cleaning which can be quite messy and time-consuming. Rabbits cannot be left outside all the time and chickens need coops.

  • Smell- Both these animals STINK.  There’s nothing that will turn up your nose quite like chicken droppings.  The smell goes along with housing, frequent and thorough cleaning is an absolute must to keep your animals healthy and well.

  • Salmonella- The trend of backyard chickens is growing.  While this is an excellent way to provide food for yourself, it can also come with a risk.  Proper care must be taken of the chickens, their diet, their water, their habitat, and even their social and emotional well-being.  Salmonella from backyard eggs is a real concern. It is especially present in their bowel movements and can easily get onto children’s hands while they’re holding the critters or gathering eggs.

baby chick sitting on a person's hand

  • Gentle Hands- These are delicate baby animals.  They need to be treated with great care.  It’s far too easy for young children to severely injure or even kill them.  This results in great trauma for the animal, and the child!

  • Travel- If you travel often this can disrupt your critters.  As we said above, they’re social animals. Chickens will sometimes go into great stress when their owners leave and may even stop laying eggs or get ill.

  • Normal critter behavior- Know what bunnies do?  Chew on things. Know what chickens do?  Peck things. And they both poop… a lot… Plus, chickens are loud!  Research adult chicken and rabbit behavior before making your purchase.

  • Length of care- These animals can live 6-12 years or longer.  The novelty of the cuteness on Easter morning will wear off well before this time.  Are you willing to commit to caring for this critter who will bond to you for its entire life?

  • Vet care- Rabbits need a good amount of vet care.  And chickens can get sick easily and need care themselves.  This accounts for cost and time for your family.

bunny in the grass

  • Cost- People are often surprised at the long-term cost of caring for their critters. They’ll cost you several hundreds of dollars a year to provide adequate food, shelter, and care.

  • Breeding practices- Most bunnies and chicks available for Easter have been inhumanely bred and hatched.  One of the most powerful ways to shop is with our dollar and purchasing these animals as gifts encourages this breeding practice.  If you are willing to commit to the animal, find one from a local farm you trust that has ethically raised the parents and cared for the young.

 

If you’re still interested in purchasing bunnies or chicks, do your research.  Visit local farms or animal shelters to find out all the care that’s required. Make sure your children are committed to helping out too.  It should be a full-family discussion before any purchase is made. Rabbits can make great friends and pets, and chickens love to snuggle and be cuddled.  Just ensure you’re committing to adding them in as members of the family for the next decade so that you can all bond and enjoy life together!

Fair-trade Chocolate- what it is & why it matters

Why Fair Trade Matters in Chocolate

Easter is right around the corner.  Did you know Easter trumps Valentine’s Day in chocolate consumption by well over double?  Only Halloween sales sell top chocolate over Easter. These classic bunny and egg-shaped treats are popping up in stores across the nation.

Over $2.6 billion dollars will be spent on candy this Easter season in the US alone.  Children around the world will wake up Easter morning to find chocolate in their Easter basket.  Unfortunately, there’s a sad side to this favorite treat that does not capture the spirit of the Easter season at all.

Chocolate statistics-

a pile of chocolate pieces

  • The US only accounts for 15% of the world’s chocolate consumption.  Most of the chocolate in the world is consumed in Europe- especially in Northern countries.

  • A large majority of chocolate is grown in Africa, yet only approximately 3% of the world’s chocolate is consumed there.

  • Cocoa grows within 20 degrees of the equator

  • Cocoa is actually a seed which goes through a multi-step process to become chocolate

  • Almost 2 million tons of chocolate are produced along the Ivory Coast- where child slave labor is a common practice

  • There are over 5 million cocoa farmers in the world

  • It takes 400 cocoa beans to produce 1 lb of chocolate

  • The chocolate industry makes over $100 billion per year

Slave Labor, Child Employment, Unfair Wages & the Dark Side of Chocolate

Awareness of fair, ethical, and safe labor practices is growing.  We often think of fair trade coffee or clothing. People are often surprised to find out chocolate has a dark side of production and growth.  (And it’s not delicious dark chocolate!)

Chocolate is actually grown, harvested, and processed quite similarly to coffee.  Regions, where coffee grows, are often regions chocolate is grown. While fair trade standards for coffee are becoming well known, chocolate has been overlooked.  Unsafe working conditions, low pay, and long hours are often part of the chocolate industry. Our sweet treats are coming at a high cost to those who have manufactured them.

roasted cocoa beans

  • An estimated 40% of chocolate is slave-grown

    • Accurate statistics could not be found indicating how much chocolate was manufactured under slavery conditions

  • At least 2 million children are working in slave-labor conditions in the chocolate industry

    • This number is likely drastically higher, over 29 million children are working in slavery conditions around the world

  • Child trafficking is rampant among cocoa farming

  • The average cocoa farmer makes between 50-81 cents per day

    • The global industry for extreme poverty is $1.90 per day

Chocolate’s Environmental Impact

The slave labor involved in chocolate isn’t the only concern.  Thousands of acres of land have been completely ravaged by unsustainable cocoa farming. There is also a massive environmental impact of transporting all the ingredients for chocolate around the world.  Plus many chocolate manufacturing plants don’t practice sustainable manufacturing. This accounts for massive amounts of pollution and waste worldwide.

Like coffee, cocoa does best when it is shade grown.  As you’re shopping for chocolate, you may see “shade grown” or organic on the label.  These are certifications that mean not only the yummiest product for you- but the best conditions for the environment as well!  Cocoa is a finkiy plant which only grows under very specific circumstances.

What Can We Do?

No, you don’t have to give up chocolate for good.  Growing awareness and international pressure on chocolate companies is creating positive change.  As with all things, the best option is to vote with your dollar. Look for fair trade certified chocolates when you shop.  Do a little bit of extra leg work and try to find chocolates that are manufactured with sustainable practices as well.

“Farm to bar” type chocolates are becoming more commonplace as well.  These are almost always fair trade chocolate. The chocolate company is involved in every step along the process.  They’re certifying growing and harvesting conditions, and manufacturing the cocoa themselves. Sometimes the cocoa will pass through several different hands before coming to yours as chocolate.  A “farm to bar” will all be done with only one company involved.

Vote with your dollar by not supporting companies with slave grown chocolate.  Spread the word to your family and friends as well. Take it a step further and let your voice be heard by contacting chocolate manufactures.  As the demand for fair trade chocolate rises, so will the pressure on companies to produce it.

Watch Your Sourcing

Green America provides a fantastic Chocolate Scorecard that rates chocolate based on their labor practices.  It’s even in a handy chart-form you can print and take to the store!

 

 

How to: Reduce Your Holiday Waste

How to: Reduce Your Holiday Waste

How to: Reduce Your Holiday Waste

Between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans throw away approximately an extra 5 billion tons more trash!  Gift wrap is a major contributor. Less than 10% of gift wrap is recyclable. A large majority of gift wrap ends up in the recycling bin. But this excess waste is not only gift wrap.  Food scraps, unwanted gifts, packaging, disposable dishes, and decorations are among the other contributors to this waste.

Our Holiday Waste Travels A Long Way- But Not For Much Longer!

Most of the items we’re tossing are items manufactured in China. Ironically, this is where a large majority of our waste ends up too.  Back where it came from. Americans export a significant amount of trash to be processed at facilities in China. Already countless sites have stopped taking plastics.  We’re literally drowning in plastic waiting to be recycled. (Not to mention the tons and tons that have ended up in our waterways) Recycling plants here in the US have more than they’re humanly capable of recycling now too.  Plastics are frequently thrown out from recycling facilities. The same seems to be coming for paper. China’s paper recycling facilities have started rejecting our recycling. Even the recyclable gift wrap may not be getting recycled in the coming years!

One man’s trash is no longer another man’s treasure.  It’s become the entire world’s trash.

Why Isn’t My Wrapping Paper Being Recycled?

If recycling facilities are still accepting paper, for the time being,  why isn’t it being recycled? Because most wrapping papers are made out of materials that cannot be recycled!

The following types of wrapping paper CANNOT be recycled:

-Shiny paper
-Paper with glitter
-Glossy paper
-Embossed paper
-Velvety paper

The same rule applies for Holiday cards.  Photo cards and cards with glue also cannot be recycled. This eliminates a large majority of gift wrap and cards.  Plain paper cards and gift wrap can be recycled. You can’t recycle bows, ribbons, bags, or most gift tags. Bows and ribbon can jam machines and, in some cases, totally ruin them. Tape can be left on gift wrap, in most cases.   Unrecyclable items that get into the recycling bin can cause an entire lot of recycling to need to be thrown out. So be mindful of what gets tossed into the recycling!

brown pinecone on white rectangular board
Most gift wrap can’t be recycled, choose a nice natural option or fabric instead

How to Reduce Your Waste this Holiday Season (and all year long)

If most of the items we use this time of year can’t be recycled, what can we do? Fortunately, there are easy solutions you can implement this year!

  • Reuse bows, ribbon, tissue paper, and tags from year-to-year.  Or switch to fabric!

  • Change your shopping habits- a large majority of the waste is packaging material. Shop from companies who use minimal and recyclable packing.  Put pressure on companies with wasteful packaging practices. Make sure to evaluate if a company is greenwashing you with their packaging claims too,  Or shop locally to avoid packaging at all.

  • Shop mindfully- When making purchases, consider how long they are likely to last. Thousands of gifts are thrown out within a year. Look for high-quality items or gifts with a lifetime guarantee.

candle celebration champagne christmas
Avoid disposable dishes.  Instead, purchase inexpensive dishes from a second-hand store for your guests.  You’ll save an incredible amount of money and waste over the years. If you’re tempted by the “compostable” dishes, make sure to check with your local composting facilities first.  Most facilities actually cannot compost these.
  • Gift experiences that require no packaging!

  • Separate non-recyclable parts from holiday cards.  Recycle the parts you can. Donate the rest of the card to a program like St. Judes.  Or use them to send Holiday greetings the next year, in crafts, or as decoration.  There are so many absolutely beautiful Holiday cards. Make a beautiful collage decoration for a gift next year!

  • Open gifts with care to reuse gift wrap the next year

  • Compost all your food waste.  Don’t have a compost bin? Contact your local health food store or farm to see if you can add your compost to their pile.  Be mindful of your food waste too. 30%-40% of food waste is still perfectly edible.

  • Millions of pounds of unwanted gifts are thrown away each year.  Unfortunately, many stores throw away returns. Even returning unwanted gifts can contribute to waste.  When purchasing gifts, make sure you’re gifting something the recipient actually wants and needs. If you receive a gift you do not want, donate it, sell on a local group, or pass it along to someone you know will love it.

  • Wrap gifts in fabric that can be reused year-to-year.

  • Use newspaper, children’s art, or magazines to wrap.

  • Wrap gifts in reusable boxes tins or baskets.

Reduce, reuse, refuse.  As we’ve discussed above, recycling is no longer a sustainable option.  These new ‘Rs’ can help you create a more sustainable holiday. Reduce your waste as much as possible- even recyclables!  Reuse items as long as possible- repairing them as needed for continued reuse.  Refuse cheap promotional items, holiday catalogs, ‘freebies’, etc. Together we can make a big impact in reducing our waste!

assorted plastic bottles
Recycling is becoming a less and less sustainable option each day- reduce, reuse and refuse!
How to: Evaluate a Product for Ethical and Earth-Friendly Standards

How to Evaluate a Product For Ethical and Earth Friendly Standards

When Kasper Organics first stepped into the market, purchasing “organic,” “fair trade,” and “ethically made”  items wasn’t a common desire. The demand for these products is growing rapidly as more people are becoming aware of the benefits of organic cotton, and are more concerned about products with fair wage standards.  While this is an incredibly good thing for those of us looking to purchase these products, it also means a lot of frauds are popping up.

Don’t Always Trust a Label

Unfortunately, manufacturers can put just about anything they like onto a product label.  Something can be labeled as “all natural” that is entirely made from synthetic chemicals. Products can be called “eco-friendly” when they’re even more damaging for the environment than the alternative they are trying to replace.  While some excellent certifying agencies exist to help mitigate this, consumers still need to be aware that you can’t always trust what is on a label. In this day and age, a little bit of research goes a very long way to guarantee your product is safe for the Earth, and for the people involved in making it!

Greenwashing Is More Prevalent Than We Realize

The term “greenwashing” popped onto the scene in the last few years.  It’s a play on words that might make you think of brainwashing. Basically, greenwashing is when a product is marketed as “green” but it’s not green at all. Greenwashing is HUGE right now.  That commercial you saw on TV for the huge brand that’s now “eco-friendly.” Greenwash. The “green” motel you’re looking to stay at. Greenwash. That box store that now sells “more organics.”  Greenwash.

Often these companies are making tiny little changes, and that’s a step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, these changes are often not at all beneficial for the environment at all. Or, they’re such a minute change, less than 5% of their entire company, they don’t make much of a difference. Sometimes the changes actually end up meaning they make larger changes elsewhere that are no longer beneficial.  

“Greenwashing” occurs with products being labeled as ethical/fair wage/ fair trade as well.  While it’s not Greenwashing, companies are labeling products and services in a way that leads you to believe their employees are being treated fairly.  Certifying agencies exist and are doing an excellent job to ensure fair treatment and pay for people around the world.

How to Evaluate a Product For Ethical and Earth Friendly Standards

If all this misconception is happening, what’s a person to do?  Try these tips before you make your next purchase:

 

  • Decide your priorities– What are you willing to compromise on?  What are your absolute must-haves? What types of interaction are you willing to have with the company?
  • Find a trusted source– This is the easiest option.  Find a trusted source you know has done the hard work for you.  We are extremely strict on the products we sell. If you find a good source you won’t have to dig as much.  You can even reach out to them for tips on products they don’t sell.
  • Look into the certifying agency- Companies are notorious for creating their own “certifying agency.” Then they create a logo to slap on their products and say “certified X” and it looks legit.  Look into these certifications. If the only products available with this certification are from that company, you might want to look elsewhere.
  • Dig a little deeper– We’re so lucky to have the world at our fingertips.  Literally. Give yourself time to dig a little deeper. Take a look at reviews and other information you can find.  
  • Ask questions- This is one of the best ways to find out.  Call or email the company and ask questions about their practices, what percentage of their business is dedicated to these types of products, why they have not been certified by a legit certifying agency, etc.  In your research above, take the time to learn some of the top questions to ask and ways companies try to cover up what’s really going on.
  • Shop small– Smaller businesses are often much more concerned of, and willing to discuss, environmental and ethical issues with you.  Plus having a relationship with small businesses is fulfilling and wonderful! You can get to know one another throughout the years.
  • Research vocabulary- Write down some of the keywords you see in the advertising.  Really dig into those words from outside sources and determine if the company you’re thinking about shopping with is staying true to the ideals and meaning of that word.

 

By taking a stand against products that are misleading us with advertising, we send a powerful message.  Voting with our dollars is an incredibly important way to guarantee more organic and Earth-safe products make it to market.

Learn More

Check out this excellent resource, The Greenwashing Index with a step-by-step guide to identifying greenwashing, spots to view and share ads, and more http://www.greenwashingindex.com

 

Organic Soil Maintenance for organic farms

Soil Maintenance for Organic Farms

Growing organic produce, cotton, and other crops is about more than not spraying chemicals. While avoiding chemicals is important, soil maintenance is also a main focus for organic farmers. The soil is a crucial component to growing and many organic farmers are quite mindful of their soil health and care. Building healthy, strong soil can be quite an extensive process. Conventional farming techniques aren’t generally focused on soil health. It can take farmers many years to build up the fertility and quality of their soil.
Through maintaining fertile soil, farmers increase the nutrients in the soil. Healthy nutrients in the soil subsequently increase the nutrients in their food. Many people comment on the difference in flavor between a small organic farm and a large conventional farm. Soil health is a key component to healthy, beautiful, delicious crops. Organic farming practices involve slowly released nutrients into the earth. This boosts the health of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, and protozoa that all work together to maintain soil health.
Rows of crops on farm with rich soil
Compost is often a major part of developing well-tended organic soil. Initially, many farmers use “trench composting” as a way to build up soil health. This is especially popular practice when taking over a conventional farm or beginning to farm on the new land. In trench composting, deep trenches are dug in the soil. The farmer then dumps compost into these trenches and buries it. This allows the compost to break down in the Earth which boosts beneficial organisms, micro-flora, etc. available in the soil.
Farmers will almost always maintain a compost pile as well. (tip- if you live somewhere you can’t compost, like an apartment, reach out to local farms. They’ll almost always be willing to take your compost and may even share some crops). Farms can purchase composters which help break the materials down faster in order to spread over the earth, or till into the soil.
Using “compost tea” is also a popular method for maintaining healthy soil. This is the liquid that comes off a standard compost pile. Farmers will often collect some compost and allow it to break down in a container, dilute with water and use it to water their crops. This provides a natural fertilizer and needed moisture.
Compost pile
Composting is involved in most organic farming operations
Nutrient cycling is also a main component to organic soil maintenance. Allowing plant remnants, lawn clippings, and leaves to break down on the soil helps provide nutrients to the soil. Proper and mindful watering, aeration, and pest control also allow the nutrients in the soil to cycle through naturally. By aerating the soil, water, oxygen, and nutrients are able to get into the soil and get to roots more easily. Aeration usually occurs once or twice during the farming season.
Farmers who tend to soil health also get the added benefit of more effective watering. Plants hold onto moisture better, and the soil filters out anything potentially damaging to the plants.
With simple pH test strips, farmers are able to get great information about the health and quality of their soil. There are also labs in which farmers can send samples of their soil for analysis. These labs will let farmers know percentages of minerals, bacteria, fungi, molds, nutrients, chemicals, pesticides, and more present in their soil. Farmers can actually alter the health of their soil by crop cycling, planting specific crops near one another, adding in specific organic nutrients, and by irrigation and watering with specific methods.
By developing fertile soil, crops grow stronger, pests are less likely to take hold and disease does not spread as rapidly among crops. Maintaining healthy soil is a huge benefit for organic farmers and well worth the time and effort they put into it. Try visiting an organic farm someday, dig your hands into the earth and take notice of the rich soil. The difference is obvious and beautiful.