Biological Farming based on ancient wisdom, our personal education and farming experience, Permaculture principles and the teachings of Dr Elaine Ingham.
We begin with understanding the issues at hand: Nutrient supply, water supply, bio-diversity, weed control, pest control, the need to improved quality of production, the need to improve soil fertility, the need to reduce input costs while maintaining production and the need to establish fair marketing.
What I teach is the practical side of biological farming so that it can be applied and understood on the farm.
We start with specifically designed inoculum compost as a rich source of beneficial soil microbes. This compost is made from a wide range of possible materials; we classify them broadly as “brown” (straw and sawdust – carbon/carbohydrate source), “green” (hay or green waste – sugar/carbohydrate source), and “high N” (proteins) such as manures.
Compost can be made in piles from 1 cu mt that start in the backyard and are turned with a garden fork, to thousands of cu mts turned with sophisticated mechanical turners. Larger systems may also include “nutrient recovery” programs involving the analysis of local waste streams as system inputs.
As this system is based in the production and application of beneficial soil microbes, it must be monitored to ensure best results. ‘Best results’ means that we are getting the best diversity of beneficial microbes possible for conditions, inputs, management and applications while remembering that we are “growing” compost for its microbes, not just decomposed organic matter for its organic content, carbon and nutrients.
To make “good compost” we need simple methodologies to ensure that the farmer/practitioner can easily and effectively implement this ultimately complex system and use it successfully to increase production. This system of sustainable agriculture management using soil biology allows us to build topsoil, reduce the need for water and nutrient input, provide productive plants with what they need when they need it through healthy nutrient cycling and ultimately return to profitable and enjoyable farming.
Simple and reliable:
1. When we make compost (whether by the kilo or by the tonne) we are growing beneficial microbes. This is living compost, not just decomposed organic matter, and the more diverse the materials we use, the more microbial diversity we achieve.
2. We need to monitor the specific requirements of compost making to ensure that ‘living compost’ stays alive and is teeming with beneficial microbes, not pathogens.
3. We monitor compost by the simple but essential measurement of temperature and moisture. Just as we get familiar with growing crops, or raising animals, we are able to learn to become familiar with “growing” compost.
4. We learn how to use this specialized compost (or soil microbe inoculum) for the best benefit and we can devise ways to apply it with the least energy. This is a valuable input so we use it where it counts.
5. We understand that using the soil biology approach to organic management allows us to grow more for less and reduce inputs over time while maintaining or increasing production.
6. We understand that “sustainable” in this sense means that production is not at the cost of the system but actually enhances the productive system and literally builds soils and nutrients over time.
Once we have made ‘living’ compost, which is essentially an inoculum of beneficial soil microbes specifically chosen and designed to support our productive system, we then need to explore the simplest methods of application for best results. We must also keep in mind that our primary intention is to re-vitalize degraded soils, knowing that other positive outcomes follow from this.
Methods of application:
1. We use the bulk inoculum compost and spread this on our fields or incorporate it into our soils. This can be by the litre when we plant trees and vines or by the tonne when we spread it broad-acre (applications exceeding 5 tonnes per hectare are normal).
2. We may chose to “extract” the microbes off the compost and into water using a “microbe extractor” over a period of just a few hours. This can be done by the litre or by thousands of litres at a time. When we ‘extract’ the beneficial microbes from the organic matter and into the compost the microbes become dislocated and have to find a new place to colonize. Once the microbes are washed off the organic matter and are in a solution, this solution can be applied to soils as a ‘microbial extraction’ where microbes then re-establish their colonies and support healthy production.
3. We can also make ‘compost tea’ when we extract the microbes off the organic matter into water and then add “microbe foods” (such as liquid fish, liquid kelp, liquid humate and unsulfured molasses) to begin the compost tea brewing process. With careful monitoring, we grow hundreds of thousands of microbes into thousands of millions over a 24-hour period. This solution (the compost tea) is then applied to soils and foliage. The microbes at this time are largely active and reproducing and this is essential when applying as a foliar spray, as foliar coverage depends on this level of activity.
4. Testing, monitoring and education are essential. This is a balanced and complex system that has been reduced to a simple form so that it can be made and applied realistically in the field.
5. We advance more rapidly when we co-operate by sharing information, progress, yields, seeds and marketing opportunities.