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Notes from the Farm -22

Posted 3/12/2008 9:06am by Leaf Myczack.

 While morning frosts stlll coat the farm fields, we stand poised and ready to begin a new planting season. After the disastrous climate events of last Spring and Summer, we feel a renewed optimism about the 2008 growing season. And well we should, for we have not been idle over the many long months since we faced the challenges posed by a late hard freeze and an exceptional drought.

There have been many changes here at the farm since the last growing season. The biggest change is the amount of rainfall we have received so far this year. Climatologists say it is because of the effects of a La Nina in the Pacific Ocean. Whatever the reason, we are receiving our normal (and generous) amount of rainfall, which is a big relief. Already we have received eleven plus inches, with more forecasted for this week. To retain a lot of this rainfall where it fell, we have spent the Winter months spreading woodchip mulch, horse barn-stable litter, leaves from roadside ditches, and last year's plant residues.

Rainwater collection and storage is our forte at the Broadened Horizons Organic Farm. We have employed every imaginable way of storing rainwater. When the rainwater barrels, cisterns, and ponds are full to overflowing, ground storage is the only remaining option for retaining additional rainfall. For that to occur means that the land must be loosened up and then have the ability to resist being recompacted. We are beginning our fourth year of working on renewing groundwater storage capacity in the south bottom (aka "Lost Forest"). It is a slow, deliberate procedure that becomes sustainable when the process is able to begin and then maintain the hydrologic cycle. The pieces we add to create the "starter" are trees that thrive in hydric soils, copious amounts of wood chip mulch, water soluble fertilizer (recycled black water), and pruning skill.

Three years after the first tree plantings, we are anticipating watching the closing of the overhead canopy with the first surge of new growth this Spring. This should occur shortly after the young trees begin to leaf out. This is an important benchmark, as it will now provide shade for the majority of the root zone. The shade provides the moist soil with protection from the sun, which in turn allows the tree to continue producing new growth, and hence more shade. Being located in a bottom means it is cooler overnight (cool air sinks- hot air rises) so that dew will collect here on the leaves which can then benefit the trees. During the day, humidity will be slightly elevated inside the grove, creating a potentially moist micro-climate.

While this work may seem to have little to do with the planting of feed grains or vegetable crops, it has everything to do with the viability of this farm. If the ground continues to dry out and crack like it has the previous two years, the long-term prospects for a productive farm grow dim indeed. It is essential for us to utilize every natural method of keeping the soil moist and fertile. Re-establishing vegetative shelter belts and pockets are a way to balance crop planting areas with those natural areas which sustain the functioning of the larger web of life. They slow or block the wind, provide habitat for insect eating birds, supply nutrient rich organic biomass, provide shade from summer heat, and retain critical soil moisture.

We are optimistic,because we can feel the heart of the land beat with a stronger pulse. We know our countless hours of pond digging, stream renewal, exotic and invasive plant removal, mulching, pruning, tree planting and working with the contours of the land are set to reward us with bountiful new growth indicative of fertile and healthy soil. That we have a meaningful role in the rapid restoration process of land that once yielded little more than heartbreak and debt, is a legacy worthy of our pursuit.


-farmer leaf