I used to glaze over soil health when I started homesteading. But now I get it. We need to pay attention to it. It matters.
Nutrient dense soil is the foundation for nutrient dense food for humans, and forage for animals. We can feed our crops with liquid kelp or synthetic fertilizers, but there’s so much more to it. We need to feed the soil.
Adding organic matter (leaves, sticks, manure, compost) gives the soil new material for plants to feed off of—and the plants that grow in it. This improves soil structure… the ability to absorb and retain water, self-fertilize, and become more resilient to change over time. If we just feed the crops and not the soil, we’re exacerbating the problem. Here’s why:
Plant roots are surrounded by microbes and micorrhizea (fungi). These work with plants to pull nutrients and water from soil, and protect them from harmful pathogens. If we feed the soil with manure, compost, decaying cover crops, leaves, etc, we feed this system, strengthen the fungi and helping our crops. If we just feed fertilizer we are directly feeding the crops—the fungi is no longer needed to work to pull nutrients from the soil and those microbes and micorrhizea begin to die. Any remaining microbials begin feeding off soil structure at lightning speed because they’ve just been doused in the very nutrients they are meant to absorb slowly. Soil structure is consumed too quickly and is depleted. Our soil begins to die. Studies support this.
I have shifted my focus as an ecological farmer from feeding my crops to feeding my soil. I will no longer be using liquid kelp or other synthetic fertilizers. I will no longer be sowing straight grass as forage in my pastures. I’ll be planting consumable cover crops that feed my animals AND my soil simultaneously year-round.
Detailed info on all this will be in my upcoming book, The Sustainable Homestead. You can also listen to Season 2, Episide 2 of my HOMESTEADucation Podcast with Mandi of Wild Oak Farms.
Angela is the farmer and content creator behind Axe & Root Homestead LLC. This historic six-acre farm is home to two Clydesdale horses, ten honeybee hives, three Hampshire sheep, a guardian dog, barn cats and a flock of 40 geese and ducks. The farm produces maple syrup, fruit from a small orchard and loads of garden produce for consumption, preservation and donation to the local food pantry.