Friday 19th November 2021
We’ve had a very growy year (farming slang for a good year!) despite that crazy May! Good grass growth supported our cows nutrition all summer and allowed us to fill the barns with silage to feed the cows through the winter.
We’ve been steadily increasing the diversity of crops we grow on our farms, starting several years ago with the herbal leys we included with our grass mixes. We’ve moved to take it further by adopting the practice of companion cropping, this means growing species which complement each other together in the same field. The species then work in synergy to produce a good crop. It’s been great to see the fields of Oats, Peas and Barley grow strong and prove to be a successful trial for us. We’ll certainly be using these crops again!
The peas are legumes meaning they can fix nitrogen into the soil, which is very important for all growing plants. The oats have natural allopathic properties, which is a fancy word for them being really good at preventing weeds in our crops. They’re also tall which give the peas something to climb up to reach the sunlight. Finally, the barley is a good source of energy for the cows and gives us plenty of grains. The diversity of this mixture gives resilience against our increasingly extreme weather and supports a wider diversity of ecological communities, both above and below the soil surface. It also provides a whole host of different minerals and nutrients for our cows feed.
The Cover Crop
The autumn is a busy time where we finish up the harvest of all our crops, but we also need to look ahead to the next season. We’ve now planted our cover crops to allow us to look after the soil over the cold and wet winter. A cover crop is really important to protect soil from the weather, with a good canopy covering the surface and to ensure we have living roots in the soil. The living roots will push sugars from photosynthesis down to feed the microorganisms that live under ground. It’s important to provide this support and protection for our soil life in the winter, in fields where there are no other plants growing over this part of the year.
We’ve used a very diverse mix and included some new things as part of our cover cropping trial this year, it’s our way of thanking the soil for its hard work and giving it a bit of r and r! There are around 12 species in total, all of which are giving us different benefits. Leguminous species like vetches and clovers fix nitrogen into the soil, whilst radish and rape give a lot of green material ready to be reincorporated into the soil next year, holding nutrients in our system and stopping them being lost from the soil. All of this extra growth also helps us to protect and capture carbon in our soils.
Yes you read that right, we said radish!
We’re using a variety called tillage radish which is only used for the physical benefits it has on the soil – it’s not the kind you eat! It grows fast in the autumn and puts down a long carrot shaped root into the soil. Then when the first frost comes, it dies off and the tuber rots away leaving a cavity in the soil. This acts as a channel through which air and water can pass. Healthy soil needs air, water, life and minerals in balance for it to thrive so using a plant like this to create more open space in the soil will always be very useful indeed. Normally large machinery is needed to loosen up soil and create spaces and cavities, so this is our kind of organic bio-technology!
We’ve written a bit more about Autumn on our farms, click here to read it.
And click here to find out more about how we take care of our land.