Rain, rain, and more rain!
As far as we can tell from our own experience, the interwebs, and from fellow farmer’s comments, this has been one of the wettest springs ever. Apparently we have already gotten over 80% of the precipitation that we get all summer! It has given us lots of indoor time to consider the strategies we need to put into place on our farm if we are going to continue to grow and manage annual and perennial crops and keep our animals dry and happy – not to mention keeping ourselves dry and happy!
Firstly we have to consider the flow of water on our property – topographical maps help our design process a lot, but living here for years and watching the flow is invaluable. This year we installed a berm and swale on our keyline and planted nut and fruit trees on the lower side to be irrigated by the swale. This keyline will provide a framework for a rotational grazing pattern that we will use for our poultry and cattle.
Then we have to consider the flows of water in our Zone 1 & 2, around our hoophouse and buildings that we have created to shelter our animals, hay, and tools. This has proven to be a bit more complicated, because of the energetic flow patterns of our movements in and around Zone 1 & 2 change as we evolve our businesses and activities. In this case, we are beginning to use swales to divert water from roads and away from buildings in a complicated water tango. We use the French Drain concepts in diversion ditches that mirror our movement patterns – this will be a work in progress for some time.
Now we come to managing our vegetable production systems. We have been growing in three main areas: the hoophouse, the main garden, and the field garden. The field garden was our first garden and it is in Zone 3, and it has better drainage and lower fertility. The main garden has average fertility and bad drainage. The hoophouse has average drainage and great fertility. Tillage with machines in this kind of wet spring is just a hassle at best, at worst it is impossible. Machines break down and compact the soil, and yet we rely on them because the keep our backs from breaking and speed up processes that we need to get done in a hurry as farmers.
As much as we love to tinker and fix things, our priority is biological abundance here, and so we have come to a couple conclusions. The main garden will stay in operation and we will continue to use it and build fertility there, but instead of an endless tillage barrage we will use mainly paper weed barriers and hay mulch to continuously create soil without mechanical disturbance. This garden is small enough to allow this to be doable – even if we have to spend money on paper or hay products, we should still come out even with machine costs each year. There is a lot more labor involved in this strategy, but it is an activity we can do in almost any weather at any time, without waiting for the soil to dry up. We will be continuously adding organic matter to the soil which will help the overall tilth. We will also use annual smaller hoophouses that we take down in the winter on this garden to protect our tender annual crops from the ravages of insects and browsing animals. These hoophouses will also shelter our young poultry, who will fertilize our garden in situ. We will also continue to use the big hoophouse intensively to grow heat loving crops. The old field garden will be allowed to go fallow next year and we will continue to graze our poultry in that area until the fertility has been built up to a better level, and then we may plant annual crops there again – but not before then.
These are some of the main insights that we’ve had with these past few incredibly wet springs. Evolving our strategies is part of being a permaculture farm – we are always observing and trying to create better systems that provide an abundance of ecological functions and beauty – and at the end of the day we want to connect with nature and eat good food.