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Embracing our Challenges

posted May 22, 2011, 5:41 PM by Admin at Yacolt Mountain Farm and Nursery
After completing our third farmer's market at the Battle Ground village market and looking forward to the first Camas Farmer's market this Wednesday, we still only have rhubarb as produce to sell. Though we are selling annual starts and rhubarb is very good, we of course had hoped to provide a bounty of vegetables right from the start...but realistically we will have to be patient. I am confident that next year at this time we will have plenty, but this being our first year here in Yacolt we have to get to know our challenges and embrace them.
We have now planted probably a little less than 2 acres of cold loving crops and plants are growing, however we can narrow it down to a couple of factors why no plants have reached harvesting size yet:
1. We got a late start.  As we just finished building our greenhouse 3 weeks ago and the temporary greenhouse had limited space and not ideal conditions. We are not worried about this factor because we know next year we will have the greenhouse and can start very early on with heat mats and cold season crops.
2. We are getting to know our micro-climate. Though we knew approximately what to expect for weather conditions, our property, like any property has its unique micro-climate and we are new to it. We are observing random snow and hail which is fascinating, exciting and challenging as far as growing. We were surprised however that a serious hailstorm did not completely kill our kale plants, but barely damaged a few leaves. Although it has taken some time to warm up, since we have arrived in March we did not see the temperature drop below 28degrees F which I still consider just a mild frost, and can be tolerated by many cold loving crops.
3. We are getting to know the land. What we know about the history of our fields is that it has been a pasture for a very long time and when we arrived it looked as though it had been overgrazed and the fertility not maintained for a long time. The soil is great as far as texture and lack of rocks, but their are some challenges. As we mentioned before we have tilled, plowed and tilled the field to break up the thick mat of grass roots that formed a thick sod layer. Even so, persistent grasses are growing back from their rhizomes and we are expecting to battle their presence for several years. To neutralize the acidity we limed the soil as recommended by our soil test and we are adding fish emulsion periodically in small amounts to provide nitrogen which our soil test also said was lacking. We have tried to address a lot of the structure and chemistry characteristics of the soil (though they still need some work) but the part that is more challenging and very important is the biology in the soil. Biology in soil is the most important factor (I believe) as it recycles and makes available nutrients and balances pests and diseases. Since we are dedicated to organic farming, biology is our greatest balancing factor. Biology is also much more complex and more difficult to master. Our field seems to lack a balanced biology. After being under pasture for so long, the biodiversity seems to have been restricted. We suspect this because we have noticed some plant damage and plant growth has not been quite as it could be (even considering the cold weather). What we have decided was that we needed to work on our soil biology and biodiversity. Restoring balance to the soil ecosystem would be our approach. So we have started to work on creating a good compost to add to the soil. We are using manure for our compost and are also putting some aged manure into the field that still needs to be planted. We are also looking to get a compost tea system organized which will provide a blend of microorganisms and nutrients straight to the plants and soil. Another way to compost is to use a biodynamic approach and we are studying the subject as well and seeing if we have the resources to make a biodynamic compost. It seems we will need to accumulate a lot of manure and turn piles for a while but we believe it will be necessary to restore fertility and balance in our soil. Other ways we will use to improve our soil will be cover cropping in the fall, rotating crops, planting plants which attract beneficial insects and more. 

This may all seem frustrating but it really seems quite normal. It would only be strange if everything grew perfectly right away without effort and life would not be interesting if we didn't have to think a little to make it all work. So we are embracing the challenges and looking forward to see the soil and vegetables come to life!