It’s an easy mistake – thinking that size matters.
That ecological techniques are only suitable for hobby farmers and home gardeners.
Size doesn’t matter. Neither does climate.
We can restore Nature’s FREE ecological services on land of all sorts of shapes and sizes from the Equator to the permafrost!
The principles are the same, but we do need to adapt and even develop tools and techniques suitable for our climate and other growing conditions.
Gabe Brown and his family farm over two thousand acres in the grain belt in North Dakota, USA.
You’ll learn heaps from their story, whether you are growing for your family, your local farmer’s market, or selling big time to wholesalers and supermarkets.
Twenty years ago, they had a complete re-think about their farming practices. Gabe discovered that the answer to their degraded soil was to use techniques enabling them to mimic native ecosystems in their region – the Prairies.
What are they doing?
- Mimicking the huge diversity of plants by growing an assortment of plants for their cash crops – grains, plus cover crops and companion plants
- Growing masses of plant biomass
- Growing plants all year round (as much as possible) – to feed root exudates to their soil organisms
- Cutting out synthetic fertilisers, fungicides, and pesticides
- Mimicking the natural grazing patterns of bison by moving their cattle in a herd across their land (Holistic Grazing)
- Moving poultry with cattle – “When the Bison ruled the plains, they were followed by vast flocks of various birds, so we imitate this phenomenon”, Gabe explains. (Pastured poultry).
- Stopping all mechanical soil cultivation – leaving building soil structure to the ‘experts’ – our soil organisms
Conventional farming techniques for grains and vegetables are hard on soil. If Gabe and his family can improve their soil growing cereal crops – we can too in our orchards, market gardens and backyards!
Carol Laing is doing similar things on 600m2.
Her garden is in the suburbs of Cairns in tropical north Queensland.
She has transformed sand into dark, rich soil by
- Growing layers of biomass accumulating plants
- Composting all her household and garden waste
- Kick-starting her soil restoration process by adding rock minerals, blood and bone, and biochar
Carol’s recent soil test shows that her soil is now a loam soil with a pH 6.9, and organic matter 6.8%. By comparison, most farmers aspire to have 4% organic matter!
At Hill Top Farm, our demonstration site in far north Queensland, Australia, we look at the adjacent native forests for our guidance. We are successfully experimenting with growing clever mixes of living mulch plants and shrubs to grow a diverse mix of organic materials and root exudates for our soil organisms, right where we need it.
Like the Brown family we are seeing improvements to our soil, without massive applications of compost, mulch, and minerals… But because we grow in a warmer climate we can’t rely on just one layer of vegetation for our biomass. We need to grow heaps more.
As our soil gets healthier we’ll also leave the job of creating good soil structure and feeding our plants to the experts – our organisms.
It’s one of the Practices in our Ecological Toolkit.
What’s been the benefits for the Brown Family?
“It’s made least cost producers out of us… we’re saving a tremendous amount on inputs”. With corn, for example, the family are producing “25% higher than the county average without all the costs involved”.
Have you got a couple of minutes?
Here’s a short video showing how the ecological practices they use have improved their productivity and their bank account.
Technically we’d call Gabe an ‘Innovator or Early Adopter’ – a person who is open to developing and experimenting with different ways of doing things.
Some people are naturally more open to change and/or in a financial situation to experiment and take risks. Or – like Gabe was 20 years ago – feel trapped, compensating for an eroding natural resource by paying for more and more inputs.
How do you see yourself?
Looking at your system from an eco-system perspective, and improving ecological functions, is your key to solving problems rather than just treating the symptoms, and constantly spending money…
Whatever your driver, start small, test tools, techniques, species, varieties, and breeds to see what works best for your growing conditions and farming systems.