FF// Phosphorus Build Up, Inter-Cover Crops, & A Gentle Reminder
It’s the grow season for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Reading and responding to forums is at the bottom of my list, too. But, there’s a great discussion being had about the potential of phosphorus buildup with the application of compost in the growers community.
KNCDELANO writes, “I work for a non-profit focused on environmental education. They hired me to start a CSA, and have enthusiastically supported my transition to no-till this summer, for environmental reasons and because the garden is productive and tidy.
The organization has encouraged me to pursue a certification (MAEAP) through the state conservation district… Despite “passing” me, the inspector was very concerned about ongoing additions of compost, and phosphorus build up and leaching into shallow ground water. He claimed that my addition of 4” of compost on soil that tested low for NPK, put me 16xs over their limits for P… I know P build up was a concern for Singing Frogs Farm, and if I remember correctly, they had testing done that showed no phosphorus leaching. I’m reasonably sure there will be no bending of the rules or reasoning with this agency, but I might be successful in convincing my employer that the certification isn’t necessary if I can present proof that phosphorus run off isn’t a concern in microbiologically active soil with healthy amounts of organic matter.
I’m wondering what you all think, or what resources you can direct me toward. I’m also wholly open to options (like I believe Frith Farm uses) that aren’t deep mulch based.”
What follows is a great back and forth about the nature of phosphorus in the soil in different contexts (i.e. does it change with respect to soil organic matter?) with several scientific studies and regenerative researchers POV (including mention of the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast by John Kempf, hint, which you should download immediately). If no-till, specifically a deep compost-based system, is going to be a viable option for reducing tillage and improving soil quality, it needs to be challenged and tested as rigorously as any other agricultural practice. To put it another way, just because some of us are not tilling and using a lot of compost doesn’t mean we get an environmental pass. Shout out to David Blanchard for keeping it real.
What this thread really means is that we’re willing to challenge not only the mainstream fundamental presuppositions of modern agriculture, but our own assumptions and practices, as well. Further, no-till on a small-scale is still in it’s infancy. It’s going to take time to figure out the answers to some of these questions. However, in order to do something well, you first may have to do it poorly. Check out the conversation, there’s plenty of further reading material being put on the table there, and let us know your thoughts.
Frith Farm was mentioned in the post, and if you’re not following the work of Daniel Mays and family, you should be. They have been doing some intensive, small-scale, no-till cover cropping and interplanting without the use of a tractor or herbicides. Here, they have planted Burssels and lettuce in a bed of rye stubble. Frith is a continual inspiration, which is why we invited him to Kentucky for our first ever No-Till Growers event in October. The use of cover crops may well be one of the pieces of the solution to the phosphorus issue in question, and it’s definitely something both Farmer Jesse (check out some of his cover/cash crop interplanting in his latest video here) and myself will be exploring over the next growing season. To get a crash course in small-scale intensive cover cropping and interplanting, and the work Frith is doing, remember to get a ticket before they’re sold out! Discounts may be available to Patreon members.
Last, I came across a gentle reminder I needed from Briceland Forest Farm, a no-till farmstead in California, and maybe you need it as well. Though it’s directed at farmsteading families, I feel it’s appropriate for all of us to hear, and applies to those who have chosen to farm for a living no matter the situation…
”Farming is hard work. Parenting is hard work. Creating a business from scratch using skills you don’t have is hard work. Homesteading is hard work. The combination of all these jobs we find ourselves doing these days has brought us close to a breaking point so many times that I can’t even count any more. I am not bringing this up for sympathy or to complain. We have chosen our path and have had support and fortune along the way to stay true. I am posting this because I want to acknowledge how hard it is. If you are out there struggling to farm and raise young children, we feel you. No matter your success and failures, you are doing great. It is hard to remember that as you look out across Instagram and see perfect snapshots of the best side of everyone’s lives and then step outside to see your weedy garden or pest damage on your crops. Just want to remind you (and myself) to keep it in perspective. We all struggle. Your priorities are right. Seasons come and go with bumper crops and with failures. Your children are only in this time in their lives right now. Love them, make time for them, and embrace the epic chaos that is this time in life. We love you and are proud of you for your boldness in choosing this life!”
As Farmer Jesse expressed in the last video, comparison is the thief of joy. If you’re going to do it, compare yourself, and your farm, to itself last year, not to another person or farm.