Good soil is built through a complex relationship between chemistry, biology, and physics.
There is a close link between soil health and the nutrition and flavor of our food. Plants uptake nutrition from the soil through the interaction of chemistry, biology, and physics. A farmer's role is to provide the ideal conditions for these interactions to take place. Farming without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides is a step in the right direction, but it is insufficient to produce truly nutrient dense food. At Dave's Backyard Farms, we have the luxury of being a very small operation. We can therefore dedicate much time to the health of our soil.
By working closely with professional social scientists, we are able to determine which minerals our soil lacks: sulfur, dolomite lime, soft rock phosphate, potassium sulfate, and trace minerals like boron, copper, iron, and manganese, all of which are approved for organic production, are important for healthy, productive crops. Each element has a unique role in plant growth. Without the proper amount of even a single element, plants can become stressed, diseased, and lacking in flavor and nutrition. While the addition of these amendments do not result in perfect soil overnight, we are committed to the long term health of our yards.
These minerals would not be able to be taken up by the plant without the action of fungi and bacteria. In fact, microbes and plants have formed a symbiotic relationship: the bacteria and fungi break down minerals to an available form that can be consumed by the plant, and in return the plant provides the microbes with food in the form of carbohydrates which they produce through photosynthesis. In conventional farms, this relationship does not take place. The formula for allowing this to occur is simple: minimal soil disturbance. At Dave's Backyard Farms, we use no mechanical tillage, which destroys the habitat that microbes require to thrive. If we cannot use a tool without a fossil fuel, we do not use it.
There are three main physical structures of soil: sand, silt, and clay. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but here in the Huntingdon Valley area we are fortunate enough to have the best possible soil structure: loam, which is a balanced combination of all three types. Loam soil has excellent drainage and is therefore a great habitat for soil microbial life. It is also a pleasure to work with. Upon inspecting potential yards to put into production, soil type is our very first consideration. We intend to continue working with loamy soil.