MFK GARDENS - URBAN FARMER NURSERY
How does it work?
The loss of the world’s fertile soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, pose a mortal threat to our future survival. According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our 4 billion acres of cultivated farmland, 8 billion acres of pastureland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.
When a farmer practices regenerative soil farming, they reduce their need to react and fight pests and plant diseases. In this programme, we work with farmers to learn what it takes to build the ecology - a set of interdependencies of animals, insects, plants, wastes, and water management systems that stop these problems from recurring or even happening.
The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only “does no harm” to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies. It is a dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil.
Importantly, learn how nature, the soil, micro-organisms, insects, water, sun, and the constellation planets works together naturally to improve each others success in the eco-system. Learn to draw lessons you can use in your team. This makes it a great corporate team-building programme.
By: Joseph Masabni
The soil is a storehouse for all the elements plants need to grow: nutrients, organic matter, air, and water. Soil also provides support for plant roots. When properly prepared and cared for, soil can be improved each year and will continue to grow plants forever. Uncared for soil will soon become suited only for growing weeds.
Some are very sandy, some are sticky clay, and others are rocky and shallow.
Sandy soils do not hold enough water; in windy areas, blowing sand can injure vegetables. Clay soils hold too much water and do not allow enough air to enter the soil.
Vegetables need a deep and well drained soil with adequate organic matter. Good garden soil with proper moisture will not form a hard ball when squeezed in the hand. It should crumble easily when forced between the fingers. It should not crack or crust over when dry (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Good garden soil will crumble easily.
Almost all garden soils can be improved by adding organic matter to make soil more workable. Organic matter:
Some common organic matter additives are:
Plant materials: This includes leaves, straw, and grass clippings. Work material into the soil several months before planting to allow it time to decompose. Most gardeners do this during the winter.
Manure: Use composted manure and incorporate it into the soil well ahead of planting. Do not use fresh manure, as it can damage plants and introduce diseases. Apply 30 to 40 pounds of composted manure for every 100 square feet.
Compost: Compost consists of decayed plant materials. Work it into the soil before planting.
Sawdust: Compost this before adding it to the garden. Do not use uncomposted sawdust because it will rob the soil of nitrogen and, consequently, starve the plants of this essential nutrient.
Green manure: Plant rye or oats in the fall and plow or spade it under in the spring. These cannot be used if a fall garden is planted.
Do not add more than a 4-inch layer of organic material.
Most heavy clay soils benefit from the addition of gypsum. It adds some nutrients but, more importantly, it loosens clay soils and makes it more workable. Spread about 3 to 4 pounds of gypsum per 100 square feet over garden soil after it has been dug in the winter. Work it into the soil or allow it to be washed in by rain.
Add sand and organic matter to clay soil to make it more workable. Mix 2 inches of clean sand and 3 inches of organic matter, such as leaves, with the soil. Do this during the winter.
What makes soil?
Basically, when it comes to soil there are two main ingredients, with an few others added to the mix in smaller doses. The main two ingredients are sand and clay. All soil will be a mix of various parts of sand to clay. Soils with more sand in them will be lighter, more grainy and, if you pick it up in your hand, will easily run through your fingers. Soils with more clay will be heavier, absorb more water, stick together more and, if you pick it up, will stick to your hands a lot more.
Added to sand and clay, in soils, are various other minerals such as limestone, sulfur and the like. Organic matter also plays a very important role in determining what your soil is like. Generally speaking, it is the organic matter which binds together the sand particles and the clay particles. This is a little simplified, but it fits for the explanation.
What makes good soil?
A soil can be considered ‘good’ when it has particular levels of sand, clay, organic matter and another ingredient called silt. This ‘good’ soil has a name and that is loam. Now, there are slight variations in what is considered as loam as well, you can have light and heavy loam, but they are just small differences in the overall make up. For the purposes of this article, ‘good soil’ is a medium loam, so smack bang in the middle of heavy and light loams.
Roughly speaking, a medium loam has the following ingredients;
10% Coarse sand (so BIG sand particles)
45% Fine sand (so SMALL sand particles)
10% Organic matter & moisture.
Now, these percentages are just rough, but they give you an idea of what it takes to make your soil good.
What makes the consistency of soil good?
Good question, what characteristics does this consistency of soil have which makes it good? Well, loam is considered good because though it drains really well, which roots like because it limits root rot, this loam is able to absorb a good amount of water which gives plants access to water when needed. This consistency also helps lock in various nutrients (added via fertilisers). Loam also keeps a good temperature, not getting too hot in summer and not getting to cold in winter. This is all because this ‘mix’ of ingredients happens to work well together to allow plants to thrive.
What is the problem with soils that have too much sand?
The positives to soils with lots of sand is that they drain water really well. The problem is that fine and coarse sand are not very good at keeping any water in place to be accessible for your plants to use. Sand also allows nutrients to leech away when water, meaning that your plants don’t have access to the minerals that they need to grow in a healthy manner.
What is the problem with soils that have too much clay?
As you can probably guess, the problem with clay soils is the opposite. Clay soils absorb and keep a lot of water, which can actually cause plants problems. Though roots need to have access to water, they don’t like to be immersed in water (unless they are water plants) as they need to be able to breath. Clay based soils do a good job of keeping nutrients, but they often lock them in so well that it becomes difficult for plants to access.
How do I fix my soil?
This is actually quite a complex answer because, though I have explained loam, I have still only explained it in a basic way. There are other considerations in actually making a good loam or turning your damaged soil into loam. You need to make sure the pH levels are right for what you want to plant. You have to make sure you have enough nutrients in the soil for your plants to do well and then, of course, you have to make sure it is a good mix as described above. However, generally speaking, if you pick up the soil in your hand and it runs through your fingers really quickly, you need to add some clay particles.