The Key Ingredients November 17, 2014
Farming is about managing the set of natural resources that are available. Broadly speaking, there are only a handful: soil, water and seeds. Of the three, seeds are the only one that I get to make a choice about. Farms either have water or they don’t. The quality of the water, which is driven primarily by the amount of salts in the water, is not a choice you get to make. With the dwindling water supply, farmers are paying an enormous amount of attention to finding water with the sole quality of being wet, which is becoming more of a challenge each season!
Soil is an amazing resource that is more inconsistent on a farm than one would expect. Soil quality is driven first by the amount of sand and clay it has, and second, by the amount of organic matter it has. The sandier the soil, the quicker water drains from it and the easier it is for roots to penetrate it (for best use by crops like carrots and potatoes). Thicker soil holds water better and is a better fit for shallow-rooted vegetables, such as lettuces and kales.
On our farm, there are three soil textures that fill our fields. Near the creek is our most sandy soil, a bench of land that is a few hundred yards wide, running along the creek bed. On the other end of the farm, closest to the hills is our most dense soil, loaded with clay and home to our citrus trees. Between the two is the golden stretch of soil that isn’t too sandy nor is it too thick with clay - the word for this is loam - beautiful, beautiful “Yolo Loam.” It is here that our crops get the best yields - greatest harvest volume per acre.
This time of year we are planting cover crops on all of our open fields. The crops will send roots deep into the soil and foliage toward the sky. All of this will be chopped up and turned back into the soil, adding precious organic matter that will help our soil fuel our crops.
In the office, we are looking at what our customers have asked for. With this information, we are figuring out how many acres of each crop we need and then piecing the puzzle together of matching each crop to the right soil type. The result is a planting schedule that is never perfect, but gets close to it and maximizes the use of our precious resources to feed our family of customers.
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