Science Wha…

This past week at practicum, we spent a large chunk of time interpreting our soil test results. Now, I freely admit that I have not taken science education since I was forced to take Chemistry 11 – about 13 years ago. So understanding the effects of

UBC Practicum Plots soil test results

UBC Practicum Plots soil test results

things like NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium), pH levels, organic matter and trace minerals in soil was well outside my ease of understanding.

Luckily, DeLisa is a patient and thorough teacher. While I can in no way claim to be knowledgeable about these things, here is a summary of what I can remember:

  • pH levels, or the acidity/alkalinity of the soil should optimally be as close to neutral as can be managed (7.0 being neutral). On the BC coast, soils tend towards acidity, so lime is applied to raise the pH level for most of the crops we grow, which are not native to the area.
  • Organic matter is very important, and especially so in sandy soils like those at UBC Farm. 10% or higher is good, and will aid in retaining nutrients and water for the crops.
  • Poultry manure is high in phosphorus, and used by most organic farmers as fertilizer for their soils, which can result in excessively high phosphorus levels, which can have a negative effect on aquifers.
  • Organically approved amendments can be used to change the various levels of nutrients in the soil as needed.

One of the important things I’m coming to understand is that farming, even organic farming, requires a lot of off-farm input, that may often come from less than ethical or environmentally friendly. Lime is mined, which always has significant environmental implications, and around here comes from Texeda Island, which isn’t too far away. Poultry manure may be sourced from factory farms, which obviously carry high environmental and ethical implications. Everything that is trucked in from off the farm obviously has a carbon footprint associated with transportation, and is often packaged in plastic. And of course, everything costs money, and when you imagine a farmer starting out, money is in short supply.

Always going in my head are questions about what can be used as alternatives, how can native species that are adapted to our soil and climate be integrated, and what part can permaculture, livestock integration, and on-farm composting play? These are not questions I have answers to, and don’t expect to be able to answer, but as long as they are always a part of my learning,  I hope to be able to integrate some of all of it into my future farm.

One of the many beneficial critters on a farm

One of the many beneficial critters on a farm

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One response to this post.

  1. I own my own chickens and rabbits and compost their bedding along with veggie scraps. It works very well. In fact, you should consider reading a book called the Humanure Handbook. It’s readable for free online. It’s all about composting and, specifically, composting human waste. But it’s a great read even if you have only interest in making yor gardens great and understanding compost.

    Reply

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