I had the privilege to attend a ‘3 day crash course’ on Organic Farming at “University of California Santa Cruz” headed by a professor who also had an opportunity to work with Masanobu Fukuoka years back. It was an amazing experience, I shall say. Around 18 or so like-minded people attended the course. UCSC has 2 farms. One, a 25 acres plot and the second one, a 3 acres plot. Both are 100% organically grown.
I was owe struck by the amount of produces they grow (mainly veggies and fruits) in the 3 acres of land. Some of the veggies grown are Radish, Potato, Onion, Lettuce, multiple varieties of Capsicum, Basil, couple of varieties of Beans, Kale…the list goes on. The main fruits were Apple, Strawberry and Peach.
Both the farms had clay type soil few years back (5 years to be precise). So they did one round of “double digging” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_digging) to work up the soil and added compost. Compost was added at a rate of 1 cubic foot per square foot. Next step was to grow cover crops like Soy beans, Bell beans, Fava beans, Clover and Alfalfa. They did this few seasons. i.e one winter cover crop and then a summer cover crop… This helped the soil structure tremendously in terms of aggregation of the soil, aeration, nitrogen content etc.
Word of caution, double digging SHOULD not be practiced as a regular/frequent cultivation method. It can harm the well structured soil, kill microbial activities and cause nutrition leach.
Seasonal veggies are grown year round. The cultivation practice is to mix cover crops to the soil by chopping them to smaller pieces around 7-10 days prior to planting the actual crop. Then they would do “single digging” (single digging is not more than 6-12 inches deep), add compost (.5 - 1 shovel per square foot) and mix them up (they call this “side forking”).
So that means the only fertilizer they add is cover crops and compost.
The other interesting practice they follow is to intercrop veggies a lot. For eg:- they would grow deep rooted plants (ex: capsicum, tomato etc) as main crops and grow shallow root system varieties (ex: onion, radish etc) as intercrop making maximum use of space. Ex:- Capsicum were planted at 14 inches apart. Between rows of capsicum they would plant radish at a spacing of 3 inches which is harvested in about 30 days.
The other interesting stuff that they followed was to plant “Trap crops” like basil, mint, flowers etc on the boundaries of the each bed. This ensured warding off insects/pests from the main crop.
No pesticides or insecticides are used. Not even a soap spray! For apples and peaches, pheromone traps were used. Again no organic sprays or anything of that sort!
Mulching is practiced religiously for tree crops and bushes which ensures moisture level at all times.
Compost Method: When the topic of Composting came up, I was all excited abt it. I was ready to give my 2 cents on vermi-composting . But to my alas, they never use vermi-compost. Instead, decomposition of material was done solely by micro-organisms. 3-4 layers of horse poop or cow dung, hay, greens and kitchen wastes were made. A nominal amount of water was sprayed on top of the pile to moist the same and it was left covered with a plastic sheet. Within 48 hours or so the temperature would rise considerably. If the temperature drops after few days, it needs little turning and mixing. By 3 months you have a sweet smelling black/brown superbly looking “gold”. Checkout the temperature before you apply it to plants though.
I felt the whole process of composting this was very easy to manage and execute compared to vermi-composting in terms of having to set up separate/dedicated vermi-compost units, sieving and separating compost from worms and carrying it to different parts of the plot. You can have such smaller compost piles in several locations in your plot, so the labor requirement can be minimized and manageability is efficient.
One other piece of information that I thought very important was to not apply fresh animal manures directly to the plants. This would cause great degree of risks in terms to carrying harmful bacteria, fungi, pathogens etc to the soil and plants. Depending upon what the animals eat, the chances of losing a whole season of crop is very much possible. Especially true when you are purchasing cow dung or sheep manure or chicken poop from a source where these animals/birds are raised on a commercial scale via in-organic method and are not healthy.
Hope these information will be of use to novice gardeners/farmers like me.
Good luck and happy farming!