These days there is a strong push towards soil health. This is actively being promoted in a lot of countries, including Canada. The internet contains a growing amount of information about soil health.
So why soil health? Why not continue as we have always done? This is an easy answer. The ‘modern’ farming method is unsustainable. In other words modern farming methods have seriously contributed to the decline of our soils. This is apparent in study after study, and has been so for quite some time.
When you assess your orchard, or field, you need to look at much, much more than just what your soil test indicates. The soil microbiology is key to how well your crop will grow, or how productive your orchard will be. Without a healthy soil ecosystem your plants will never be healthy, and your crop will never be a quality crop. Sure you can add synthetic fertilizers, and get plants to grow well. It may even look like you have a great crop. However you need to take a closer look at the quality of your crop. There are a diverse amount of nutrients that a plant uses for producing roots, leaves, fruits, seeds, etc. If a plant does not have those nutrients the ultimate crop may look good, but in reality it contains shortages of key nutrients.
Plants develop a relationship with the microbiology in the soil. The benefits that this relationship has is tremendous. This relationship will define how well your plants will grow and how good your crop will be. Once a plant develops a healthy relationship with the soil microbiology the incidence of disease and insect attack are greatly reduced. A healthy plant normally does not become a victim to insect attack or disease. Plants and microbiology have developed mutual beneficial relationships long before humans began farming, so not only does a plant benefit from the microbiology, the microbiology also benefits from the plant. The idea is to try and recreate this relationship in an orchard, or field, so that your plants and your microbiology thrive.
I have heard the statement ‘feed your soil’, but I think a much better statement is:
‘Feed your microbiology properly and your plants will thrive.’ c.berry 2106
On top of this you also need to pay attention to what else is growing in your orchard or field. Soil erosion control and developing an ecosystem that adds nutrients to the soil, retains moisture, and controls growth of other plants that compete for the same nutrients of the plants that you wish to thrive are all key items to a successful operation.
In our case we face a few challenges when establishing a new orchard. One of the main challenges is that we are attempting to grow a certain species of plant in an area that does not have an ideal ecosystem for this species of plant. To create this ecosystem we add various non-synthetic soil amendments, non-synthetic fertilizers, organic material and mulch to try and create an ecosystem that works for the plants that we are trying to grow. We base what we will use on soil tests, what weeds are present, soil microbiology tests, and what has worked in our other orchards. We also pay close attention to the growth of the plants during the growing season and make adjustments as needed. This is usually a year to year adjustment.
We avoid any types of herbicides or insecticides, even the organic ones. On a CNG farm, or a certified organic farm, organic control products can be used. We also avoid synthetic fertilizers as well. The question is why? This is not because these are bad products. It is because the concentrations in these products will undoubtedly disturb our microbiology in a way that will not be beneficial to the ecosystem that we are trying to develop. If the ecosystem that we develop gets overwhelmed by higher concentrations of a certain nutrient, or chemical, the balance is disturbed to a point where the ecosystem does not function properly. The ecosystem will recover. Nature will heal itself if given enough time. However we do not wish to experience constant recoveries of our orchard ecosystems.
The USDA has some great information about soil health. See here for more information.