This week, farmers were able to complete spraying compost tea on the entire farm. Composting is a process of decomposition which is greatly aided by a variety of fungus, bacteria, and other microorganisms. These microorganisms break down dead plant material and make it available for young growing plants. In addition, they have the ability to improve soil texture, water retention, and nutrient retention (without these microscopic workers, nutrients can be lost by washing out of the top soil).
Compost tea is a liquid made from healthy compost used to inoculate the soil with a variety of microorganisms, like the nematode pictured above swimming in the tea. This is an extremely important step in creating sustainable, healthy soil for years to come.
We finished up the planting of fall crops at both the north and south farms. As an average, we can expect these crops to have a life cycle of about 100 days from seed to the end of harvest. Some crops will only be in the ground for 60 days or so. That means when a particular crop has terminated (has all been harvested) we can go back to a given bed, prepare the soil and replant another round of crops in that spot. We call this successional planting, and it allows us to provide produce 365 days a year, or as close to that as we can possibly achieve, barring extreme weather events or pauses in the planting regime as we saw this summer. One of the great things about farming in the Gulf Coast is this ability to plant and harvest many different edible plants year round.
Before we planted these crops, we prepped beds one last time. Weeds, of course, are a very serious foe in farming. When crops are planted, if weeds get a head start on the crops, we have already lost yields. In a farmer's toolbox there are many things we can use to abate incipient weed issues. Weeding with hoes is highly effective, but time consuming. Therefore, we rely heavily upon tractor-driven cultivation techniques to get the job done. The implement we use in our particular system is called a knife and tine cultivator. It works by disrupting the top inch or two of soil crust when weeds are very young and unestablished. If the weeds are the right size, this pre-planting cultivation technique is highly efficient at removing weed pressures and can be used throughout the growing cycle of the crop. Once weeds are established, it becomes much more difficult to remove them, up to the point where the only solution is to till the ground and prepare new beds. That is a point we hope to avoid.