Although Sundog is not certified organic, I still follow organic practices out of a commitment to doing what is right for the health of both the land and the people who eat the food I grow. Simply put, organic farming is absolutely the best way to grow good food AND it greatly reduces the environmental costs of agriculture.
I am not certified because in addition to being extremely expensive for small farms, the certification process takes at least two growing seasons, and because I am on rented farmland, it is not clear how long I will be farming here. Certification is a great way for the consumer to know what he/she is getting, but it’s just not the right thing for me at this time. Instead of being certified, I open up my practices to anyone who wants to know. I’ll post as much as I can here, and all are welcome (and encouraged!) to ask questions on this blog or interrogate me at markets
Soil: Sundog uses a “feed the soil” mentality which emphasizes adding organic matter and long-term fertility to generate a healthy and productive soil. For organic matter, I add manures (sourced from local stables and businesses) and compost produced from organic waste such as spent brewery grain or coffee chaff. Tilling of cover crops also provides organic matter and nutrients. I have used a large amount of certified organic compost when required. For minerals I use rock minerals such as dolomite lime, rock phosphate, and greensand, or organic material such as alfalfa, bone, or kelp meal. I do not use any materials that are not OMRI-approved.
Weed control: Weed control in crop rows is done using hand tools, cover crops, and mulches. The only herbicide used is acetic acid (a.k.a. vinegar). For larger scale work in clearing ditches surrounding the field, a strong concentration of vinegar is sprayed on weeds on a sunny day.
Pest control: The primary means of pest control are crop rotation, healthy plants, and companion planting. For more severe problems, floating row cover is used. If pests were to threaten total crop failure, organic pest control such as Bt is used.
Tillage: My goal is to reduce tillage in order to preserve soil structure, soil ecology, and organic matter. The Sundog field, which has been growing weeds for several years, will receive an initial tilling when dry in the spring. After that, shallow tillage using a wheel hoe will be used to facilitate seeding and weeding, and a broadfork will be used for deep tillage and drainage. That’s my plan anyway, we’ll see what the land and the weeds have to say about it.
Seeds: For seeds, I do most orders through West Coast Seeds, and buy their certified organic varieties whenever possible. I also order seeds from Stellar Seeds, Fieldstone Granary, and Saltspring Seeds. I’ll buy non-organic seed from West Coast before buying organic seed from a far-away company such as Johnny’s or Seeds of Change. I’m also learning to save my own seeds.
We like to think of a farm as a somewhat controlled ecosystem, and animals are very much a part of that. Right now our farm animals are limited to chickens and ducks (though we also have 2 cats who control the rat population, and 2 old lazy dogs, who really don’t contribute anything…)
Our chickens are pastured, which means they are in a mobile fence and coop, and we periodically (at least a couple times per month) move them to new ground. In addition to continuously allowing the chickens access to fresh plants and insects (which makes the eggs tastier), this prevents them from destroying the plant life in any one part of the farm, and also allows them to naturally fertilize different parts of the farm. The ducks roam free, patrolling for slugs and other pests, and taking an occasional break to go swim in the pond.
Eventually we hope to add more animals to our farm, but we’re trying to start slow. Animals require a lot more responsibility than plants!
I do my best to minimize waste and reuse materials when feasible. For building projects, I use as much salvaged and recycled material as I can find (check out my back-porch seedling greenhouse from a few years back, which was almost entirely built out of salvaged material).