Thursday February 11, 2016
My wife Richele and I have been organic farmers for over 40 years, first in California, then here on Kauai. As you can imagine, in that time we’ve tried a lot of farming techniques, perfecting some and putting others aside.
Most important to us are the techniques to keep our soil fertile, healthy, and full of nutrients!
Why Does Soil Fertility Matter?
Contrary to today’s ethics of interchangeability, commoditization, and globalization, not all produce is created equal. The fruits of two apple trees, even of the same varietal, can have widely different levels of key nutrients, depending on the soil each tree was grown in.
We firmly believe that the reason our noni trees produce fruit 12 months a year, rather than the usual 10 months per year, is because we have taken such pains to keep the soil on our farm highly fertile.
The care we take shows up in our fruits as well. When we sent our Noni Fruit Leather to an independent lab, it was found to have 6,024 ORAC units per serving. ORAC units are used by the USDA to measure antioxidant content. For comparison, an average apple has barely 300-500 ORAC units.
Preserving the potency of noni fruit is one of our passions — we want our customers to get the maximum healing benefits per serving!
Soil Fertility in Trouble
America’s soil fertility has been on the decline for decades because, as a society, we’ve stopped prioritizing soil health. Modern industrial agriculture uses large amounts of synthetic fertilizer, which boosts soil fertility in the short term. Unfortunately, this disincentivizes farmers from doing the techniques that boost soil fertility in the long term.
These long-term cycles of soil fertility are ultimately the ones that allow nature to stay ahead of the damage done by farming. Ignoring them means that farmers are taking out more than they’re putting back in.
That leads to depletion of topsoil, reduced nutrient content of food grown in the soil, increased problems with weeds and pests, and many other concerns.
Techniques to Enrich Soil Fertility
On our family farm, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do all we can to preserve and contribute to the soil fertility on our land. You can do the same in your garden. Especially if you grow any fruits or vegetables, soil fertility can make a big difference to how your produce looks, tastes, and nourishes you body.
Here are some of the techniques we use on our farm to keep our soil a living, healthy entity. We hope you’ll borrow some to use yourself! They’re easier than you imagine to set up.
If you’d like to see any of these techniques in action, and happen to be planning a trip up to Kauai, we encourage you to come visit us for a free farm tour! Click here for more details.
Mulching is probably the easiest way to enrich soil fertility. You’re basically composting in place, right around the plants. We do this around all our noni trees, and get great results.
- Maintains more constant soil temperature
- Provides habitat for insects, microbes, and other animals, including beneficial worms
- Keeps moisture from evaporating
- Returns nutrients to the soil
In essence, mulching imitates the natural cycle of leaves, wood, and other plant matter building up on the ground to cover the soil.
How to Get Started:
You can start mulching very easily by gathering your yard waste, including fallen leaves and grass clippings. You can also add wood chips, sawdust, and shredded newsprint. Once you have a good amount collected, you can cover your soil.
You can either put your mulch all around individual plants, or you can evenly cover your soil.
We have tons of wild worms on our farm, but we also cultivate our own special vermiculture (worm composting) worms. We simply put the worms in a closed environment and let them break down food scraps and other compostables by digesting them.
The “castings” (aka worm poop) that the worms produce as waste is extremely rich in nutrients. We gather the castings and spread them around the farm. "Black gold," another name for these worm castings, makes an amazingly effective fertilizer!
How to Get Started:
You can get inexpensive kits to start your own vermicomposting operation, or you can make your own “worm hotel” out of plastic bins or other materials. Just Google search for “worm bins.”
Basically, all you have to do is give the worms a damp, dark place with lots of compostable materials for them to eat!
We also do traditional composting on the farm, and you can do this too! Just make a big pile of organic matter—food scraps, paper, cardboard, wood shavings, leaves, etc.—and let the bacteria go to work.
We have learned to turn and water our piles every other day, feeding the beneficial bacterium with air and water. When the compost is broken down, it becomes a substance called humus, which is essential for healthy, living soil.
How to Get Started:
Composting can be as simple or as complex as you need. You can buy or make extremely small composting bins that can go right outside your kitchen window, or even inside your kitchen! As long as you only compost fruits and vegetables, your compost shouldn’t smell much.
The hardest part is making a habit of saving all your yard and kitchen scraps and creating a composting system. It takes a while to make good compost, so you’ll need a bin for collecting new scraps, and a bin for curing established compost.
No Till System
One final way we keep our soil fertile is by never tilling our land. Tilling means turning the soil over to make it easier for farmers to dig into, start new plants, and weed. Unfortunately, tilling has a lot of negative consequences:
- Disturbs and kills living things in the soil
- Releases carbon, oxygen, and water that were locked into the soil into the air
- Gives weed seeds the chance to germinate
We don’t till the soil on our farm, to preserve the fertility of the land. It’s harder work sometimes, but fertile soil isn’t that difficult to work with, even without tilling.
You can bring all of these practices into your own home garden and greatly improve the fertility of your soil. We’ve seen the rewards firsthand here on our farm, as we continue to grow healthy noni trees that produce the most nutritious noni fruits out there.
How do you preserve soil fertility in your garden? Let us know in the comments!