Regenerative Organic Farming
Regenerative organic farming is an approach to agriculture that utilizes ecological communities to build soil health and grow crops without synthetic inputs. Regenerative agriculture improves soil and biological resources by employing cover crops, crop rotations, and composting. In this way, it differs from standard organic farming practices. Learn how our CCOF-certified organic garlic farm is supplying nationwide.
What is Regenerative Organic?
While it might be a mouthful to say, the basic ideas and practices of regenerative farming are easy to understand.
- Use cover crops during and after crop growth to keep soil ecosystems alive and fed.
- Use crop rotations to help stop the spread of soil-borne diseases and pests.
- Use compost and organic inputs to add microorganisms, mycorrhizae, and nutrients/minerals.
Prioritizing soil health will intrinsically allow farmers and gardeners to optimize yields and crop health. Building soil also prevents top-soil loss, a significant problem many agricultural methods fail to address.
How to do it?
Prioritizing soil health will intrinsically allow farmers and gardeners to optimize yields and crop health. Building soil also prevents top-soil loss, a significant problem many agricultural methods fail to address, causing massive issues with crops missing nutrients and minerals. Mycorrhizae help plants digest nutrients. Besides, the fungi’ hyphae allow access to minimal-diameter soil pores that retain water and nutrients as the soil dries. Your farm will grow wholesome organic produce with proper education in soil health.
With healthy soil, crop yields will be easier to maintain as biological communities work to hold excess nutrients, keeping them available for when it’s needed.
Cash crops will be less likely to succumb to pests and disease with crop rotation and cover cropping systems. Many organisms can improve your farm ecosystem while putting pressure on problems and diseases!
Soil Health: The What, Why, & How
Soil health is an integral part of our farming practices and dictates what cover crops we plant, what amendments we add, and what kind of compost we make. To better understand soil health, we will explore what it is, why it’s essential, and how to improve it.
What Is Soil Health?
When we look at our soil, we see a vital living ecosystem that sustains our crops, insects, and animals. When this ecosystem has a proper balance of soil organic matter and physical, biological, and chemical attributes, it is deemed “healthy”. Examples of these factors are: Soil organic matter: nutrient retention – soil structure – soil erosion. Physical: water holding capacity – compaction – density Biological: earthworms – soil respiration – microbial biomass Chemical: reactive carbon – electrical conductivity – soil nitrate levels. We monitor our soil by using detailed soil reports that pin point what is currently happening. We order reports every two months.
How Do You Improve Soil health?
Depending on your soil type, soil properties can be improved in a number of ways. Cover crops can add organic matter, reducing tillage can minimize compaction, and bacteria can lower salinity. Fear not if you have less than desirable sandy, clay-filled or pesticide-saturated soil; with time and regenerative organic farming practices, you too can have healthy, productive soil! If your serious you must obtain a soil report. Laboratories are beginning to add more detailed reports such as water retention and microbiological activity
It is important to understand the Microbial activity in your soil so you know the soil reactions and functions, the rate of organic matter decomposition, is your humus formation and nutrient cycling working for your soil, is it creating stabilization?
How You Start
You need to do some serious homework!
We are providing some links to excellent sources to get you started.
Soil Health Principles – A Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education page containing video lectures and PDFs covering basic soil health principles and the importance of living soils.
Soil Health Literature – A list of peer-reviewed papers compiled by the USDA and NRCS. The sidebar contains links to much more information and resources.
Soil Health Indicators In The Field – How to see, smell, and feel soil health indicators out in the field!
Ward Labs Soil Health Analysis: This is the lab we use for analyzing our soil. One of the services they offer is a consultation after you receive your reports. We’ve found the comprehensive, reasonably priced Haney test is perfect for determining what state your soil is in. While not as complete, the Routine Soil Analysis will also greatly add value to the regenerative organic farmer or gardener.
National Healthy Soils Policy Network: Each local network provides resources, information, and solutions specific to their area. It’s a great way to learn more about your area’s local soil issues!
Compost: The What, Why, and How
Compost is an integral part of our organic regenerative operation and has numerous forms, uses, and advantages. As a natural way of recycling organic matter, there is no better system to tap into for building soil. Compost can increase plants’ immune systems, improve soil structure, retain moisture, and reduce the need for fertilizer when appropriately utilized.
What Is Compost?
Simply put, compost is a mixture of decayed organic matter used to help build soil and feed or protect plants. Compost can take many forms, and not all are created equal. There is a science behind creating good compost!
Why Is Compost Used?
When mixed right, compost can contain more biological life force than any other amendment! Compost biology includes beetles, nematodes, worms, mites, and fungal spores. All of this help to produce soil that is diverse with life and able to buffer against diseases and pests.
How Is Compost used?
There are many ways to incorporate some form of composting into your agricultural practices. Compost can be derived from green (nitrogen), and dead (carbon) material and then added to the soil. Compost tea can be made to water or spray onto crops. Techniques for large-scale farming include utilizing no-till or minimum disturbance systems, cover crops, and grazing.
Compost Information and Resource
Building Soils For Better Crops – Another great book by SARE, contains 2 chapters dedicated to compost and many other techniques that build soil. This a must-read for anyone looking to learn about soil, compost, and the science of regenerative organic methods.
Large-Scale Organic Materials Composting – Contains a useful table of high carbon and nitrogen materials with C/N ratios.
Turning Cover Crops Into Green Manure – A brief and interesting article on using cover crops as compost. This idea can be used in raised beds, gardens, lawns, and even 1000 acres plots!
Cover Crops: The What, Why, and How.
Cover crops have been used in agriculture for centuries; the practice isn’t new. However, during the mid-20th century, they fell out of favor with contemporary synthetic fertilizers. Cover crops can be used on any farm and in any garden; once you find a few that work in your environment and for your purposes, you’ll never want to go without them!
What are cover crops for?
Cover crops have countless uses: stabilizing soil, fixing nitrogen, attracting beneficial insects, building soil carbon, and much more! Really, the only limit is your imagination and, of course, your climate/zone. Cover crops aren’t a quick fix or silver bullet for any issue. Their contribution is amplified when used properly in conjunction with other regenerative farming practices.
Why use cover crops?
The real question is, why not? We use cover crops to build organic matter, suppress weeds, fix nutrients, feed bees and keep the soil covered during our rainy winters. Other farmers use cover crops to provide high-quality forage for grazing animals. You can even use a legume cover in your raised bed or potted plant to fixate nitrogen!
How to use cover crops?
Seed can be spread by hand on smaller plots, while many tools and implements exist to make larger areas more manageable. See the Spreading Seed page for more information on specific instruments and tools we have tried on our 8-10 acre plots.
How Basaltic Farms Works With Cover Crops
Cover Crop Information and Resources
Managing Cover Crops Profitably – This PDF, provided by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, contains just about all you need to select and manage cover crops.
Cover Crops: Selection and Management – Another SARE page that Includes links to webinars, research papers, selection tools, and much more!
Cover Crop Chart – A helpful chart containing 66 common cover crop species with information on growth cycle, water use, seeding depth, and more!
Cover Crop Cocktails – An excellent article exploring the methods of making your own seed mixtures; definitely worth a read if you’re looking to save money and maintain a diverse mix!
Crop Rotation: The What, Why, and How
Crop rotation is essential for any farm looking to build soil health and crop resiliency and save money on nutrient inputs. Working a rotation into your agricultural plan might seem daunting at first, but many techniques are available to break the monotony in farming systems.
What is a crop rotation?
Crop rotations are, in simplest terms, a way to diversify food and shelter for your soil ecosystems and the foundation of regenerative organic agriculture. Farmers and gardeners who practice crop rotation will plant alternating crops on the same piece of land each growing season.
For example, A gardener growing garlic and practicing crop rotation would not plant another Allium species where garlic was grown the previous season.
Why is crop rotation practiced?
In a field where one crop is grown, back to back, year after year, the soil sees a build-up of pests and pathogens harmful to that crop. By mixing in other species, or families, of plants, one can avoid using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and other “band-aid” solutions that damage soil ecosystems.
How is crop rotation practiced?
One method is to define the crops you grow into four groups:
For each group, you have a plot in your field or garden. After each harvest, you move the groups to an alternative plot. Ideally, each group will have at least 4 years until entering the same plot.
Crop Rotation Information and Resources
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms – A detailed book with examples, descriptions, and analysis of crop rotations in organic systems. Published by the Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service with funding in part by the wonderful people at the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education fund.
Crop Rotation Made Easy – A short and helpful blog post with examples of rotating the four groups mentioned above.
Crop Rotation in Organic Farming Systems – NCAT tipsheet with general principles, considerations, and more interesting resources.