A reader (Patricia J) wrote to me recently about various things and mentioned that she lacks some diversity in her compost since she doesn’t have access to good manure.
I had mentioned that very thing in my post about diversity when I said, “The only thing that I don’t have is some good manure free of antibiotics and residual herbicides. That would be excellent to complete my diversity of plant and animal material —”
Several months after writing the above, I learned about the practices of Robert Quinn, a very successful large scale organic farmer in Big Sandy, Montana which I found most encouraging.
Mr. Quinn has no large livestock operation nearby to supply healthy manure and the fields there are so big that he considers it impossible to spread compost or manure anyway.
Thus, Mr. Quinn uses neither compost or manure!
He uses green manure and lots of it. (Cover crops used as green manures are not allowed to mature but are usually turned into soil at an earlier stage to increase soil life activity and add fertility.)
Quinn has experimented with clovers, medics (self seeding legumes), peas (field peas), alfalfa and grains. He definitely practices diversity in the use of his cover crops.
He credits past crops of alfalfa for helping to build up soils on the farm. He plants alfalfa as green manure when testing shows the need for a boost of extra nitrogen to the soil or when the next crop is a crop that will use great amounts of nitrogen.
Although this commercial farmer monitors his soil in a way that would not be practical for the home gardener (or at least not for me) — there is no reason we as small gardeners can’t use alfalfa to build our soil as long as we practice diversity with our cover crops (or green manures) and not plant the same one all the time.
The greater your diversity – the wider your range of nutrients and soil life in your soil.
Using a strategy similar to Mr. Quinn’s of cover crop/green manure rotation in our small gardens can bring us the same benefit that this successful organic farmer has had: greater diversity in soil life that helps disrupt insect, disease and weed cycles AND gives a high quality organic crop.
Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and it’s a lot healthier.
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