Eight Ways to Bring More Ecology to Your Farm
Biodiversity is key in the ecology of life. A farm has its own ecological system and the land can actually heal, repair, and restore itself.
When we tap into this power, we see it is unlimited in what it can do. The land is alchemy, turning one element into another. This unlimited potential shows us what is truly possible. Soil has the capacity to grow the redwood forests. What is really holding us back, when it comes to farming, is not the soil, but ourselves.
What does this mean? It means that if our plants or animals are struggling, it is not the land, but our farming techniques that need adjustment. Let us establish natural systems, instead of fighting against them. Rather than taking measures against pests, we create an environment where the plants are naturally disease resistant. The more that we build soil, harvest rainwater, and tap into the seasonal cycles of the land, the easier it is to farm.
So how do we tap into the ecology of the land?
Take the words from the Dali Lama, "Never give up." Just keep farming. With an open mind, the land will teach you. It will. When your crops fail, instead of feeling anger, ask it to show you. Learn from it. Ask the question, "Why?"
This work on connecting to a more natural system will remedy your failure. It sounds simple, but in today's industrial farming practice, if a crop gets a fungal disease it is common practice to use anti-fungal chemicals. Instead of questioning why the fungus took hold in the first place, and how to heal the land, it is common to just use chemicals. In this way, we lose the teaching. We lose our connection.
In working towards health and regenerative ecology we can see how powerful it can be to actively engage the very systems we want to promote and grow.
"The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." -Masanobu Fukuoka
How to bring more ecology to the land?
These are plant-based fences or rows that not only help to break the wind, but are wildlife habitat. This will increase your bird populations. On our farm, we have blackberry hedgerows. The flowers for the bees on these hedges is a huge source of pollen in the spring. By bringing more bird habitat to the land, you will see pest populations lower. However, do be prepared to cover your baby seedlings, as birds also love to eat seeds and sprouted plants.
Rotational Grazing of Animals.
Instead of keeping your animals in one area, allow them to graze pasture until the grass has been eaten down, and then rotate them to another area. Chickens can even be grazed this way. We do this because this keeps the grass from becoming bare and overgrazed. Rotational grazing of animals also helps to build topsoil and has even been linked to reducing climate change. Perennial grasses trap atmospheric CO2 with their extensive roots systems, storing carbon (C) meters below ground (1). When the animals graze on the grass, the roots die below. This traps the carbon stored in the roots, in the ground. Then the grass grows back after the animals are rotated to another area of land. The roots grow back too. When the animal returns, the roots die back and another cycle of carbon sequestering happens.
By growing perennials together, plant species benefit each other and mimic how forests develop in the wild. On our farm, we are creating food forest hedgerows. Not only do these hedgerows act as a wildlife sanctuary, and windbreak, they are now a food source for us as well.
Harvest rainwater in the soil.
Swales, ponds, terraces and raised beds are excellent ways to store water that falls every year. Swales have been shown to create natural springs after a few years of water collection (2). How incredible is that? We can actually create our own springs!
Grow, don't mow.
This is going to be controversial. But allowing areas of your lawn to grow, you will also allow flowers to grow and create more habitat for bees and predatory insects. Even let some of those "weeds" go to seed. Maybe not in the beds where you grow vegetables, but many weeds are food and homes to all kinds of beneficial insects. Let these grow out on the periphery.
Nature has its own way of mulching. This builds soil rapidly. It also insulates and protects. By mulching, we hold water in the soil, and actively grow the soil organisms that dwell within it.
There are many ways to compost. Chickens on the compost pile are one of our favorites. This way rapidly creates compost, while feeding the chickens excellent forage. Just make a big pile of compost in one area and allow the chickens to scratch at it. It works even better to build a wooden fence around the compost pile. This keeps it in one area, instead of being scratched all around.
Swales and Raised Beds.
We love swales and raised beds because they allow us to dedicate land to soil building. Build soil where it counts: in the beds. As well, raised beds allow us to get into the ground faster in a cold spring. Swales are particularly helpful when planting perennials. Not only do they create an excellent ground for growing, they harvest rainwater.
1) Entz, M.H. 2011. Natural Systems Agriculture website.University of Manitoba. Online: http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/naturalagriculture/
2) Ty Wooldridge, 2016. Permaculture Food Forest. Online: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/swales/