Let’s talk soil
Soil, whether it is clay, sand, or silt, acidic, basic, nutrient rich, or nutrient poor, cannot support a healthy garden without it’s soil community. The soil community is the single most important component of soil and includes microbes (such as bacterias, protozoa, nematodes, and archaea) and insects (like worms, roly-poly’s, butterflies, bees, and wasps). Microbes and plants act hand in hand to support one another and the community of life that depend on it to function properly. At Rainshadow we have a goal to support and balance the soil food web, that soil community, at all times–harvesting crops, weeding, caring for transplants.
When we plant flowers, let crops flower for our pollinators and bolt (when a plant goes to seed), and apply microbes and nutrients to our fields to support the healthy cycle of the microbial community we are amplifying the life in our soil. This makes it easier for plants to absorb nutrients in the soil which is why we have such nutrient dense foods at Rainshadow. Healthy soil equals nutrient rich foods. Lots of microbes in the soil means easy access to those nutrients for plants. No matter the task, there is always an eye on what we see as an indicator of what we can’t see.
Are there worms and insects? What types?
The worm plays a big role in the quality of the crop and are a sign to us that there are plant available sources of nitrogen. Worms aerate our soil, build more organic matter, bind soil particles together, and help to balance other microbial populations. Microbes eat one another, trap pathogens, and keep one another in check. Even the pests we fight (like aphids and spider mites) attract beneficial bugs like ladybugs, mantis, and rove beetles. When we start to see pests, they disappear shortly if we also see ladybugs, mantis, and beneficial spiders. Diverse systems create balance.
How green and big are the leafs, fruits and roots?
When our tomatoes get extra bushy, we cut them back to help focus the energy of the plant into ripening fruits. When we notice yellowing, decaying leaves on a kale plant, we know they will fall to the ground and the nutrients will be absorbed back into the soil through bacteria and arthropods breaking down the leaf and bringing the nutrients to the plant or storing them in the soil. This cycle creates matter to attract soil microbes and improve organic matter in the soil.
So, what does the arrival of winter mean for our soil? After we harvest, we try to keep the soil community as active as possible. We plant cover crops and let the plant matter from this season’s crops remain in the fields to break down over the winter (remember that soil organic matter from last week’s email?).