Jack Forster - 25 March 2011
Now as this is the Soil Association Blog, I though a blog about soil management might be quite good! Now before you skip to another blog at the prospect of reading about soil, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Soil is a living, breathing thing that needs to be treated as such. If it isn’t looked after, particularly in an organic system, then yield will be low. I can’t really speak for arable soils, as the only crop we grow is grass, but grass is the key ingredient to our low input system. Our cattle and sheep graze the grass in the spring, summer and as much of autumn as the weather allows, and then eat haylage and silage bales made on the farm through out the winter when they are inside. We are blessed with more land than we need for the amount of stock we have, meaning that not only is the grass used as cattle feed for us, but it is another source of income as we sell any surplus bales.
If we didn’t look after the soil we would have a lot less grass and not benefit from this potentially profitable crop. Soil has three main components: minerals from rocks, organic matter from plant and animal residue and living organisms (not just earth worms, but all sorts of bacteria too). Another major component however is air, which due to the heavy machinery used on farms these days is being forced out of the soil! We don’t have too much heavy machinery, but we do have cattle and sheep which all compact the soil with their hooves. We have noticed declining yields in the last few years, so we have decided to order an ‘aerator’. An aerator fits to the 3 point linkage of the tractor and has 8 inch blades which penetrate the ground creating slits. This should help to improve drainage as well as reduce compaction. This should improve bacterial activity, and, if the water drains away earlier in the season, should encourage the grass to grow sooner as the soil temperature will be higher. It should be coming in a couple of weeks so I will let you know how we get on with it.
Jack is a professional rugby player with Sale Sharks, but also has an active role in his family's farm in St Helens. The family are fourth generation farmers and and own two Soil Association licensed organic farms. All the cattle and sheep that are reared on the farm are butchered through the on farm butchery, and sold to local people through the farm shop, local deliveries and local farmers' markets. Jack is a keen supporter of British farming and wants to encourage more people to 'buy local and think organic'. He studied agriculture at Hartpury College and aims to go back into farming when he retires from rugby.
31 March 2011 19:17
Hi Nicki, sounds exciting! it lokks like Tim Perret might be the man to ask!
29 March 2011 18:26
Can I have some advice please. We have just demolished an old workshop (probably 100 years old or so) and want to use the ground to grow, amongst other things, food. Would it be a good idea to have the soil tested for contaminants etc. If so, then who do I go to?
29 March 2011 16:39
I'm sure the same principles apply in the garden too. The good thing about the raised bed is that you know exactly what you have in your soil, and that it should be nice and light rather than compacted. A good tip for you raised bed in the long run is to try and get hold of a large bag full of horse manure and leave it in the bag until you come to sort your beds out NEXT year. Mix that in when you turn the beds over an it will enrich it not only with humus, but lots of bacteria and hopefully worms that will get the soil going nicely.
29 March 2011 13:39
Its good to read about soil, given I garden on good old east anglian clay! This year for the first time I am going with the no dig policy and raised beds, hard work setting up but I hope it will pay off in the long run. You farm rather than garden but we both work with the soil so its good to hear your tips for keeping it healthy. Looking forward to hearing how the aeriator works!
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