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.
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.
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.