Thursday, December 9, 2010

Preparing the farm for winter

Things at the Seattle Community Farm are moving right along and the farm is now set to overwinter well. One of the most important tasks of preparing the farm to overwinter is covering up any bare soil. All of the hard rain we get over the winter can compact the soil as well as leach away nutrients and cause soil run off into our storm drains. The two commonly used ways of covering the soil on a farm are using cover crops/green manures and mulching.

Cover crops and green manures are plants that are grown specifically for improving and protecting the soil and are an important part of any organic farm. You can use them at any time of year, but they are especially important over the winter. The plant roots hold the soil together and their foliage dampens the strength of the rain as well as uses up some of the water.

In spring, a few weeks before you are ready to plant, you till the cover crop under to add vital organic matter and nutrients to the soil as they decompose. Alternatively you can pull them up and compost them separately to be added back if you want to plant right away.

When all of the construction was complete at the Seattle Community Farm in mid November, there was snow in the forecast and it was too late to plant cover crop so we used the other method, mulching.

Mulching is laying organic matter like straw or leaves on top of the soil. This way it dampens the force of the rain and soaks up some of the water. While protecting the soil, the organic material also slowly decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil. We ended up getting a wonderful donation of straw from Kelly, a kind woman on Beacon Hill who not only gave us the straw but helped deliver it to the site in her truck. We spread the 28 bales of straw several inches thick over the entire site. When we’re ready to plant in spring, we will till it into the soil to finish decomposing or if it still has some decomposing to do, we’ll rake it off and compost it separately.

Thank you Kelly and everyone who helped us mulch!

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