13. Soil

The microfarm’s fertility is clearly based on soil quality. This must be the object of all care. A good level of soil health determines all of the grower’s activity. Soils must gradually become as alive and natural as possible, fertilised appropriately, worked with respect, mechanical work being exceptional or forbidden. Cultivation on permanent  beds meets these objectives.

Care provided to the land can be divided into two phases:

1. The first phase is dedicated to soil creation. At the outset it is rarely of optimal quality. For several years, the grower will strive to increase the organic matter content, correct the pH if necessary, improve the structure, fill the nutrient gaps, revitalize life, and so on. One means may be a major addition of well decomposed manure or compost during bed creation, which enables a real leap forward. This process of soil creation is made possible by the limited and well-defined area of the beds. Parisian market gardeners of the nineteenth century made significant additions of manure, at first devoted to the creation of hot beds and from there used to fertilise crops. They describe in their treatises how they managed over the years to create exceptional soil for their vegetable crops.

2. In a second phase, when analyses and observations confirm that the soil is fertile, stable and alive, we enter a phase of maintenance – even so the fertility, well managed, should improve naturally from year to year. Fertilisation is approached differently depending on the type of bed.

The grower will pay particular attention to the soil life: worms, microorganisms, mycorrhizae, etc. At Bec Hellouin we make various preparations of bokashi or compost-tea to boost the microbial life of soils and to improve the resistance of crops. [Ed: The farm also adds biochar, made on site.]

Green manures are an effective way to improve soils. However, their establishment, and especially their cutting down and incorporation, are more difficult to achieve on permanent beds than on areas cultivated by mechanisation. In addition, the small cultivated area and the high number of rotations leaves little room for green manure. We circumvent this difficulty by making fertility transfers, taking advantage of different sources of biomass available locally (hedge and tree prunings, reeds, grass clippings, dead leaves, ferns, harvesting biomass plants such as comfrey and nettles, pond mud, etc.). We prefer their use as mulch rather than in compost in heaps.

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