Despite acknowledging that the soil you farm on is invaluable, how important is it to prepare it properly that would last us several growing seasons? There are a number of ways to prepping your soil for the coming farm season, but what, exactly, are the keys to making sure that your soil is prepped and ready to take on your crops?
Today we have farmer Ben Hartman of Clay Bottom Farms to give us a look on the macro side of building soil. He’ll also be sharing how he does it on his farm, and who knows? Maybe his approach would apply to you.
Today’s Guest: Ben Hartman
Ben Hartman is the owner of Clay Bottom Farm in Indiana. He authored The Lean Farm and The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables that talks about sustainable farming built from a sustainable system. He also offers several online classes including market growing masterclass on efficient organic urban farming.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Ben Hartman’s view on soil and its importance to farming (02:40)
- Approaching the conversation of fallow land to productive farmland (09:30)
- How lean bed preparation can be (13:45)
- Techniques to adding compost (17:50)
- Testing the soil before bed formation (21:20)
- Refining compost and dealing with compost not fully broken down (29:30)
- Lean thinking, crop rotation, fallow blocks (33:00)
- Competitive advantage with soil building (39:00)
- Opinion on going completely no-till in small-scale farms (44:50)
- Getting water off the beds (50:00)
- Observing water patterns and planning (56:00)
- Assessing your own soil in your own farm (59:00)
Tools and Resources Mentioned
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Diego: [00:00:00] Brand new land or brand-new farm. How do you get that land production ready? So the work that you put in up front pays off for years and years to come. That's what we're talking about in this one. It's soil building coming up. Welcome to farm smulch farm smart. I'm your host, Diego DEIGO. Today's show is brought to you by paper podcast.
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Broad folks are going to be one of the tools that Ben Hartman talks about in today's episode, because today's episode is all about building soil. This is going to be a two-part series on soil. And today we're going to focus on the primary step, a more macro. Have you, how do you take initial land and start to build that into productive farmland? Would you do to that land to get it ready to farm on? Ben's going to talk about his approach, what materials he uses, what tools he uses and why he uses them.
As we go through this episode, listen to Ben's approach in, think about, does this actually apply to your situation or does it resonate with you? There's a lot of approaches to building soil out there at the end of the day. You got to use the one that works for you today. It's one approach. It's Ben Hartman's approach. Let's jump right into it. Building soil from the ground up.
[00:02:10] So Ben today I wanted to dig into one subject that a lot of people in this space really get interested in. And it's something you can actually dig into in the field�it's soil. This is something that you cover in many ways in your online courses, from soil preparation, farm layout, to composting.
And I want to approach this in two parts. Today will be part one. We're going to look at more macro around creating beds and then part two, which will take on a next episode will be a more micro view of things. Looking at dealing with bed turnover. When you think about soil, And its importance to farming. How do you view it and how does that view tie into how you approached preparing beds at the new location for Clay Bottom Farm?
Ben Hartman: [00:02:58] Basically three ways to go about farming. So one, I would call it water based farming. This would be supplying nutrients to your aunts through a fertigation system, which means you would run drip tapes a and then you add minerals.
Or fertilizers. And you heard her gait, your plants, right? Yeah. You can also use hydroponics. I consider that water-based spiral with water as the primary mechanism to provide food for our plants. Okay. The second would be what I call them physical or mineral-based farming. And this would mean going out and purchasing things like grease and, or blood me or whatever. And you supply these minerals. to this, and then the plants uptake those minerals and those minerals become dissolved and water. So water is essential mechanism, even through mineral based sparring, quite a despite purchasing aid, those inputs, through minerals that are going to supply nutrition in plants.
And then a third basic way of farming is what I called carbon-based farming. And you hear more and more about carbon-based farming with the popularization of no till techniques or low-till farming. And, because carbon-based farming relies on, I've been as a mechanism to hold on them. It rolls.
So you don't have to keep adding minerals and tilling them in, Or you don't have to keep having to add minerals through your fertigation systems. You have it indigenous in the soil conditions that you've created. Okay. And so this is the type of farming that I promote, and I don't want to necessarily proselytize because I'm, I'm not opposed to fertigation systems. In some circumstances, we do it for fertigation with our greenhouse tomato production sometimes. And I'm not opposed to adding minerals when needed. And, we do sometimes add minerals, especially with our tomato production in the greenhouse or, for everything else we rely just on carbon-based farming.
It�s okay to mix these systems. And the subject is more complicated than that. We're just going to do one, one way of growing food and not do the others. And there's just this, I don't wanna come across as saying that you have to be a carbon-based, compost-based farmer to be a true farmer. There's other systems.
However, I do promote this system from a lean perspective and the reason is from a lean point of view, where you want a low cost of production. Was low labor inputs and high value out. Okay. So the easiest. And so when it comes to bed preparation, I am always looking for the minimum amount of the old passes.
Okay. So this would be a term I use to refer to how many times did that to the BCS or the tractor or a handheld or whatever tools we're using. How many times did we have to ask over a piece of land before a seed went in? And so if you think about a cover cropping system, so this is a traditional way to begin an organic farm that you'll read in traditional textbooks.
We don't use this system, but what probably the most commonly taught system beginner and farm would be to get out of two bottom or one bottom and then you disk it or till it to the point where you can seed some cover crops. And then you see it a season or two of cover crops, and then you foil almost all those cover crops.
And then you tail or disk in those cover crops. And you slowly over a season or two build up your organic matter years. And so what you do, however, if you have probably six or eight field passes by the time of cash crop goes in. And what I was interested in doing on my new farm here was doing the few number of field passes, maybe two or three field passes by the time a new seed one in, and we started making money off our work.
Okay. And so we are doing here, what I call mulching-based carbon farming, or basically creating a mulch. And we're going to place that malt where we're going to go our ops. We're going to place it thick enough. That we're not going to have weed pressure through the mulch, and we're going to make sure that it's a high-quality mulch, so that has all the minerals that we need. And so we're not going to have to spend money on mineral inputs and then we're going to see directly into it. And so essentially what I need to do is the kit is to kill the existing turf or whatever I have. Okay. And once I've accomplished that killing, and then just make sure that the subsoil is loose, loosened enough that we can grow crops.
And for most of our crops, that means a depth of about eight to 10 inches. And then I'm going to supply this mulch. And so those are the three basics steps. First is the one where I think you have a lot of options and there's a lot of ways to go about doing it and it depends on how much you have and depends on what type of turf or pash or whatever green matter you have that you're trying to get rid of and replace with what you want to put in.
And so the easiest thing to do is buy black tarps and to lay those black tarps out over the plot of land that you'd hope to arm and just let the sign kill what are it underneath them. And then, and you don't even have to get a tractor to tractor out what was there. Okay.
Now, obviously this is all going to work. If you're doing this and this summer black tarps are next and offerings next to no effectiveness in terms of weed killing and the winter months around as far North as I am here, just doesn't get hot enough. And obviously, if you're doing more than about an acre black tarps are just really cumbersome to use.
Okay. And so I would recommend them, especially around a half-acre or less, that can be an effective, quick technique to accomplish step number one, which is, killing what was already on the low.
Diego: [00:09:17] But a year ago you moved your farm. You arrived at this new site where clay bottom farm is now. It was a bare site. There wasn't a farm there, but productive vegetable farm. How do you approach starting the conversion of fallow land Into productive farmland?
Ben Hartman: [00:09:37] What I did here here because we were beginning going into October, October is the first I had access to the little land here that we're starting to farm. As I got a tube, we have enrolled to bottom that I put behind my 34 horse Kubota tractor, and I plot out everything we did.
And it just, it took it's less than acre land. So it was a quick afternoon project. I plowed at night. I knew we have a lot of rhizomous weeds here. There's natives, a passionate is overgrazed path, essentially that we're using and to get rid of those rhizomous weeds. I knew that the technique that's recommended is to let those weeds grow some grow three or four inches.
And then till then again, and to repeat that process three or four more times. And so I did that before we applied our mulch. Yeah. Before we even did our, we did around of, loosening with, and the greenhouse we use broadforks and in the house we used chisel ploughs.
Okay. So step number two is to loosen what you have. All right. So let me back up though. And I do want to that, it just, it makes sense to learn what kind of pressure you're going to have if you can, through observation. So like I said, we have this rhizomous weed pressure. I knew we were going to have, I did the research and use techniques that the university is recommending to take care of the rhizomatous weeds.
If you have a lot of chickweed, if you have a lot, this'll, there are techniques that are well researched. And so my recommendation is to figure out the dominant weed pressure you're going to have based through observation. And actually I had some from our soil conservation office come and we did a round of identification of plants.
I knew that we pressured we're going to have, so get some help, identify the weeds you're going to have, and then get some help learning the techniques that are now recommended. Take care of them. And there's not one tried and true method. There's a very different way to get rid of buying opioids versus a Canadian thistle, versus chick weed.
For instance. and I Google internet research. That is what I would recommend for each of these. We could spend, we could spend a whole session talking about weeds and how you're ridding specific types. however, if you use my system, this is just a one-time process. You shouldn't have, this should be a longterm.
That shouldn't be a longterm thing you're dealing with. Okay. And so then I do think it is important to use a chisel or at least in the beginning to loosen up soils, especially if you're farming on land that was used for conventional agriculture or on pastures, because these are guys that are going to have your compassion and mechanically loosening them is the quickest way to go about doing it.
You can plant cover, you can campaign tillage, radishes and cover crops. Yeah, and you will lose this season and spend a lot more effort than, then simply by getting answers out and loosening things as deeply as you can, during that first growing season. Okay. At this point, I do all my own in chisel.
And on the first two farms, first two pieces of land that I farm, we rented pieces of equipment, or in one case, I had it, the neighbor who had a largest tractor had him come over and do that. So again, this is something that is not a, you don't necessarily have to do on a yearly basis. And so you don't necessarily have to go out and purchase all the equipment you need for this.
You can rent what you need. However, it's important to get your ground loose up to depth about eight to 10 inches. That's as deep as our carrots and, other root crops are look.
Diego: [00:13:22] When you look at initial bad prep, how lean do you want to be? Is this one of those areas where do it once, do it right? Spend the money you need to and do what it takes to save yourself time and money in the long term? Is this scenario where you could potentially go overboard, within reason, And on the flip side, do you see people just skimp and just not do enough initially?
Ben Hartman: [00:13:49] I see problems on both ends, and a lot of cases, farmers skim. They simply get their ground loose. They till over and over again. So it's not as loose enough. and the root matter and plant matter that was in there is broken down enough that they can plant something new in there. And that's just probably a recipe for disaster. Your weed pressure's going to be too high. You're not going to have enough carbon, probably minerals in this soil to get good plant growth.
And then on the other end of the spectrum, I see people spending more money than they would need to build up their carbon and time and effort to build up the carbon. And so what you need to do as a beginning farmer, your primary task, I think, is to find low costs sources of local carbon and get them on your phone and incorporated, with as little effort as possible.
And so the solution is going to be different on every foot. And in my case, I have good access to grass and weed clipping based compost, and it's not awesome compost, it's not fully broken down compost. However, it's a leaf mold product, through our, through the municipal, through a municipal, contracted service, like collects grass clippings, in town here.
And that costs me next to nothing. And it makes sense for me to use. Now, if you don't have the access to that f organic matter, and maybe you have people doing a lot of alfalfa production near your area. There's always moldy alfalfa, usually if there's a lot of up over it, and there's always hay bales that get left out in the rain, bales that get left on the barn floor that aren't usable anymore, that sort of thing.
And so I'm not actually very predictable where people loss is a great solution. I know a lot of farmers further North than that. And Michigan and camp, they're closer to Pete Moss sources find that's the lowest cost source of carbon and have a semi-loads of peat Moss truck on it. Now I challenge if you're using a Pete moss, is that it is quite a bit, usually quite a bit more expensive. It costs me probably three or four times as much.
I anticipate peat Moss as our primary carbons or as it does for the supply. Do you use these grass? At least putting system as are involved. Okay. And Pete Moss too, is not gonna have the minerals in it. a compost is going to have, so that's the reason I promote compost.
If you have a source of lower-cost compost to purchase. And or if you have equipment that you can make your own farm, Compostela, low cost of production and which we do purchase. And we also make our own compost here. And I do have an online course that tells you exactly how we're making our compost.
The essential ingredients our three scoops of a high carbon something. Such as Louise and then one scoop of a high nitrogen something. And, in our case, this would be organic duck manure, Indiana is the largest duck-producing state in the nation. And so that's what we have and then get those two mixed, with, turn them at least five, five burns, and to try to achieve 141 degrees Fahrenheit, so it doesn't have to be complex, but you do have to have or a bucket on the front of your tractor that you can turn the compost.
Diego: [00:17:13] Steps one and two were loosen the soil and then subsoil. And step three is add the organic matter to it. And then is that just a surface add, or do you like to till it in?
Ben Hartman: [00:17:23] The type of farming that I promote is mulch in place carbon farming. And what I'm talking about is just applying your compost or you're all on the surface. And not feeling it and not incorporating it too deeply. Yeah. Like I said, there's not a one size fits all solution. In my case, my compost is not perfect. It has chunks. And and it's not fully decomposed often by the time I'm at the time I'm a pocket.
And so what I do is I put it on three to six inches thick, and this is how we began our farm. I plowed everything, till everything and. Alright. And then we ran a chisel and got it and soil deep blues. And then I went in and I applied three to six inches of this compost, some of which I brought from our role, which I hadn't been paid and some of which I purchased.
So there's a mix of, and a diverse mix of what you want in your healthiest compost. And so I got this compost and put it on three, six inches thick. And then I till just the compost. Okay. I didn't go so deep that I'm incorporating a little bit from what's underneath the compost will find its way up.
However, I'm trying to till just a compost, to break down chunks in the compost. That's why I'm not technically a no-till farm. I do think that on most farms, some amount of tilling, all right, is a practical solution. Okay. In my case, one of the reasons I tell on occasion is to break up chunks in the compost that we're using with this surface compost system.
Okay. And this is a very, so this is a very quick process. You can do all these steps one afternoon and how it's going to give you high value produce for several growing seasons. Okay. And so in my case, I did steps one and two, and then one in the winter. And then I added my mulch in the spring and, we were making money by the end of March.
You're making $3,000 a week by the end of March and consistent basis throughout that first growing season. And it's because we had a donor groundwork and gotten lots of carbon onto this arm at the beginning. And I think too, is that the genius about compost is that it holds on the minerals for a long time.
Okay. Not just one or two growing seasons for several growing seasons. And so what I will do from now on is reapply compost on an as needed basis. So when I see the texture, this look too much like the native soil underneath it. Alright, or if I start to see weed pressure, and that means I need another layer of mulch on the surface, and I'm going to add maybe an inch or two more compost, however, it's a one time basis to have that thicker amount, but three to six inches of compost at the beginning.
And so in the end, after a couple of growing seasons after, three or four growing seasons, it will amount to maybe eight or so eight or 10 inches of applied compost. however, I'm not doing that all at one time, three to six inches is plenty, for that first,
Diego: [00:20:30] What's your view on soil testing pre bed formation. Do you just show up at a site. Should you get a soil test to know what you're working with before you start anything?
Ben Hartman: [00:20:41] I think that is always a good recommendation. So I want to give you a little bit of soil science background here because. It helps to know just the basics. So you basically have carts and horses. I don't want to get too much in lecture mode here, but essentially cards are positively charged ions. So these are positively charged minerals, such as calcium, magnesium potassium. These are minerals that are very important for fruiting and tomatoes. For instance, most tomato production problems.
Towards the later into this season, one of your fruiting is happening are due to a lack of these things. Lack of potassium or calcium. I don't know any potato farmer who isn't keeping track a successful potato farmer. They're keeping close track of their potassium. For instance, with you not going to get nice, right.
Fruits. Without measuring potassium and supplying additional potassium as needed and tomatoes. So those are important, those positively charged ions. And what they're going to do is they're going to connect them on themselves to negatively charged things like silk humus are going to want to connect themselves onto calcium.
Magnesium potassium was positive ions. Okay. These ions, those minerals want to filter their way through. Okay. And so when you have, when you measure your, a bit, the ability of yourself to hold onto those positive off guys, but the technical term they use for cation exchange capacity, your CDs, and every soil test is going to give you a cation exchange capacity.
And in general, you want to hide them. And this is like the size of your fuel tank. how large of a fuel tank does your solo have? Does it have a 20-gallon capacity, or $5 a pack? I see. Okay. And so we like to see high numbers here, like an eight or 10, and if you're in the low ranges, Then, if you're at a one or two or less than one, then that means you need to increase the amount of humus.
And you can add clay to Coleman adds clay to his Sandy's. there's another way to increase the ability of the soil that you have to hold on to those positive ions that you need so much. Okay. In my case, my compost takes care of this. it's going to have, in addition, it's gonna in to the compost will be all these minerals and the compost is going to have lots of humus.
And so the mineral sticking to stay in that compost for a period of several growing season, I write one report that compost can hold on to these. positive for nine years or more. Okay. That's a long time. So for a lead point, this is very attractive. It means I don't have to go out and spend a lot of money on minerals from off the farm to bring onto the farm.
Every growing season. I can just build them up and roll and use them one season after the other. Okay. So those are the cards. And I said, there are horses. So horses. Are nutrients that tend to run off your car. That's why I liked the term horses. So there's nitrogen, for instance, your phosphorus.
Those are the two most common or most needed horses for vegetable crops. There's others like sulfur and bore or on to so on horses do is they don't stick around like you're positive. They tend to get flushed out rather quickly. Okay. That's the reason why you have heavy rain events. You have phosphorous pollution in the rivers around here and nitrogen pollution too, because farmers are oftentimes using too much nitrogen in prosperous and that heavy rain events push those, flush those excesses.
Into our drinking water systems. Okay. Oh, no matter how high poly your compost you're you're always going to need to have an outside source of nitrogen and phosphorus. They're going to have to supply, in different amounts depending on the crop that you're producing, on a seasonal basis.
And so what we do is we, or some organic duct, or as the lowest cost source of these two, the nitrogen phosphorus in the, in our area, you can certainly purchase minerals that will do that too. led meals, a good example or soybean meal, a high nitrogen source of high net neutral. Okay. So in general, you want a balance, however, between carts and horses, you don't want your horses to run away.
With an empty cart. There's analogy of the Amish we'll use in our area. If you see, for instance, in a tomato greenhouse, a lot of green levy growth on your tomatoes, by tiny fruits and so nine setting, you have a boarded of hours. the problem is, oftentimes. You had too much manure, too many horses and not enough card.
She had too low of a cation exchange capacity or not enough calcium, magnesium potassium Messer. In addition, I test our compost too. Yeah. We have a fairly stable mix of ingredients now that go into country. Oh. So I still rely on the st. Pesach several years ago. You don't have to keep retesting testing.
It's not in the submit or program. Isn't changing that Craig's point. however, what I do then is I have a side by side view of what this oil has, what the compost, and then maybe I need to add, I did add a little bit of bore on, for instance, my compost did not have, have enough and I do add a little bit of potassium.
I do test, I do a foliar testing, which is a leap, a petiole test of our tomatoes when they're about, neophyte. So that plant's growth. My knee. I'll grab some fresh leaves. And send them in and they'll tell me how much potassium those tomato plants are taking up. And then I can make a calcium and using potassium adjustments.
through a drip system for irrigation system on tomato plants as a need to, as they get into their fruit fruiting or use your product. And so there are there's, it is important to do testing. However, a problem I see is as often as I see people not doing enough testing, is people doing way too much testing and treating the game of farming like.
like a chemistry experiment or a math problem, and it's not a math problem so much as it is a biological experiment that we're doing. So if you, it's so important to keep a high biological activity, which your compost will do, and that's gonna stimulate a microbial activity, which is going to release these nutrients and then soil.
And so you can keep testing. You can keep adding minerals, but. if you have a high cation exchange capacity, if you have high carbon in your soil, that takes care of so many issues, that you do not need to do soil tests before every prophet goes. I think at most once a season cell testing is sufficient.
And the best time to do it is at the end of the growing season, when the soil still has warmth before true winter, I said, you can get a good sense at that point, because when it's cold, it's always cold. You're not going to get as accurate of reading, especially if you're trying to. Get a sense for how much phosphorus and nitrogen you're still on my app.
So your most accurate readings in the soil still has some worth in it at the end of the growing season. And then you can make some adjustments thinking through the winter, how much more composting and do I want to add some supplements to that content?
Diego: [00:28:19] So when you've built these beds now, And they're done. They're ready for production. I mentioned that some of the compost you get, it's not fully breaking down, it's chunky. And then you also make your onsite compost, which is I'm assuming better quality more finished when you plant directly into this. If you're planting into the bigger chunkier compost, is there any worry there?
Now, one thing you always hear is nitrogen lock-up, planting into woody stuff, planting into compost. It's not broken down. You're gonna see problems. What are your thoughts on that? And how do you handle it?
Ben Hartman: [00:28:59] I, yeah, I'm like awesome. That was absolutely something to be concerned about. What I do is I, it's like we have, so it is a bit jumpy.
I reserved that for transplanting our kale into, for instance, a transplant represents, maybe you don't have to find tills if you're transplanting something out of a three or four inch pie. Okay. However, if I am direct seeding a or my sooner or greed. Other greens, then it is nice to have composted is broken down a bit more in which case I will skim till the surface, to improve my tilt.
And and again, it's a reason I'm not technically a no till arm. I do think there is, there are times and places to perform some deflation. So I might skim through all the surface, know, and I might choose my nicer grade compost and put a skim layer of half an inch or so on the surface. before seeing those crops in.
alright. So nitrogen lockup is a subject worth a discussion with discussing because if you're using really Woody, chunky compost, that is not fully composed, that can happen. I have not seen it happen very often on my farm. Okay. And we use pretty chunky stuff. If you think that is a problem, you can always, supplement.
With additional, animal manures and poultry runners, have that give you the highest punch and turn your phosphorus tonight. So if you can get a source of poultry manure, that's what I would recommend. And now main place in the U S even bite pellets. Okay. Are her Brex and Michigan, we'll sell as a large poultry, organic poultry product.
This is no sell dehydrated chicken manure pellets and be a low cost way to get some chicken manure. And a light weight, easy to move way to get chicken manure onto your property. And so you can supplement. So for instance, whatever, the more experimental techniques that we're practicing is I'm down doing NCT, composting, which means I'm compost, and in the place where I plan to use the compost.
So it's a large, horizontal, not very deep compost heap that I'm not going to move. I'm just going to plant directly into it. And this is an attempt to save another step, another move. Now I typically make compost one place, then move it to my production. And here I'm just making compost in my production, my future production.
Okay. And so I'm using a lot of grass clippings leaves and there's a lot of carbon in there and I am suspicious that I'm going to have. some nitrogen locked up in there. And so what I'll do is I'll do a little test planting. I do a soil test and I've got some nitrogen in my back pocket and I'm going to supplement it with, if I see it, that is going to be an issue.
Diego: [00:31:40] How do you view crop rotation and having bed blocks set aside that sit fallow, sit cover cropped for a season a year, a period of time�thinking of how much you use compost. All the work that you put into preparing your beds and your lean thinking. When you think about having crop rotation and fallow blocks, and you have the space to do that at your farm, I've been there. How do you think about that?
Ben Hartman: [00:32:14] Some of the best growers I knit are doing full or in six or seven, six year rotation. I know grower use New Jersey or who does a six year rotation, meaning he'll grow crops. A ample plot per season or do, and then he'll grow, cover crops or pasture some animals on him.
He'll go wait, six, whole years before he'll put vegetables in that pot. Again. Now most growers don't have the luxury of having an Apple and to be able to do this six year rotation. And I think that on a smulch scale, people doing say five acres or less. That doesn't make sense. You need to maximize the amount of land that you have.
You can't afford to be waiting even one growing season, and I'm an impatient person. And so I, I have a hard time watching a cover, ah, take up valuable and that I know I could be growing a cash crop. And I now have a hard time being patient sitting on the tractor, pulling that cover crop or mowing that cover crop and plugging it in and tilling it.
because I know that I could be using the diesel in my tractor for more direct adding cats, a cash crop task. And so at this point we don't actually use cover crops. And at this point I don't actually have a plan rotations where I'm setting aside pieces to look band. and wait and waiting a season or two or even a I, the system I have is what I call or from the lean system, a can ban means replacements.
And it pushes you towards full time passive production. So a replacement signal from three D. They can dance on my arm are EDS that open up. So if I see I have a better to open, I immediately think in my head was the most profitable crop I can put in there at this time. And I'll see. And we'd like to have her spaces at full production.
That in part, because we invested so much in this compost system might have been just mentioned. And so I want to be using it. And so what we'll do is we'll harvest and then usually that same afternoon I'll paper, pot, or direct seed, something directly into what we've just got done harvesting. Okay. So we're at full capacity production and I'm not planning any further out than say, Hey, I've got an open space here.
What can I put in there? That's gonna be the most viable crop at the time. Now there is more forethought, a bit more forethought that goes into it. Alright. And, we could spend a whole afternoon on what our planning process looks like in detail here. How are the gist of it is that I know about how many, how many beds of carrots or Spanish, or salad mix or turnips that I know my accounts are going to want from me.
Each spring, summer and fall and winter. And so I actually planned throughout the growing throughout the year. I don't do one annual planning session, but in this case might use me as an, keeps our business a nimble business. We can quickly change what we're doing. However, let's take carrots. For example, I know that I will sell about 12 carrots every winter.
That's what I, that's what our markets will support throughout the winter. And so as summer beds open up, for instance, as zucchinis, zucchini finishes as summer, rugal it finishes. All right. So my summer beds open up. I know that I want, I wanted to vote in those two carrots. So I'm going to direct seed carrots and eight of those until I've got eight beds of carrots.
And then I'm going to move on to seeding crops that become next terms. We'll probably come back, sleep need a little bit cooler weather, to grow then carrots, you can see it a little bit hotter. Anyhow. So I don't do any setting aside of land and letting it sit however, for nutritional reasons, because my soil nutrient levels are very fine.
Diego: [00:36:10] on Instagram, you posted some images and one of the images showed what you described earlier of layering out a bunch of leaves, which you had acquired from a municipality. Talked about that in the last episode that we did over the winter, you're going to turn it a few times and then you'll follow this process and you'll set up new bed blocks.
Is this just increasing then your production at any given time? You're not doing any sort of crop rotation. So you just want to add more land into production. That's why you're taking this on.
Ben Hartman: [00:36:46] This is because I have these crazy longer-term visions of I'd like to build a greenhouse devoted this big production.
And I know I don't have time right now to do, to build that greenhouse, but I can do some soil preparation. I can do some building up of. ahead of time. And so I've got some more experimental fund projects and that's what that is. That's on a section of our farm that's, call it the mood of farm, the experimental farm, where I have fun with it. And in our space that I devote to our cash crop production, but puts bread on it. I'm using this carbon, this mulch in place system.
Diego: [00:37:27] I've just been talking to him about that'll to play a little bit of devil's advocate and approach this from a contrarian side, you look at a lot of mega farms and even new organic mega farms. So this isn't just a conventional ag thing. They do a lot of tillage. I've seen some of these farms and the soil looks�not that good. I think a lot of farmers at this small scale would look at these thousand acre farms that are organic and say, Ooh, you're growing in that when you think about all the work that you did, let's say on your previous farm, cause you had a track record there, like a long experience, you saw that farm in that land and that soil evolve.
With all the work that you put in, did you see a big difference between year, say 10 at that farm and year one at that farmer at the end versus at the beginning, because what I'm getting at is I've started to hear more and more growers at the small scale say, soil is important, but how is it important actually, isn't it growers, aren't going to all this trouble. Are we getting that much of a competitive advantage from doing all this work?
Ben Hartman: [00:38:37] It depends on the type of farming that you're putting in. I'll go back to the beginning of this podcast, where I talked about three basic types. And so the bigger growers, and there are some huge vegetable growers of Michigan from several hundred acres of potatoes and that sort of thing.
So they are in category. Number two, I talked about mineral farming. They don't have to have minerals. They don't have the minerals in this soil. They're growing those potatoes and they can bring those minerals in. If there are Anik, there'll be a middles on the forum. Things like bone meal, or seaweed products.
they could be informed of chemicals. Okay. Petroleum-based chemicals. And I grew up on a corn soybean. That's the type of farming I'm very familiar with. Okay. And I still work on that type of, on that farm occasionally. And so this type of footprint, it makes no sense to bring to truck, lots of carbon in, because this is a, it would be way too expensive.
to do the system I'm doing here on smulcher fridge, it would just would make no sense. And it's just way more efficient to take care of weeds. And since by cultivating will ease, and especially when, when Roundup and some other, some other options for weed control came out, it definitely makes sense.
It definitely doesn't make sense to smother weeds when you can simply cultivate it very quickly or use a product like around us. Okay. So I'm a very practical person. It makes total sense to me that if you have a thousand acres, you're trying to grow potatoes and you probably don't want to truck six inches of peat Moss on top of that and spoil, you're going to spend a ton of money.
It's probably not going to pay off. So I'm going to be there. and other types of these farmers are using fertigation systems. I know, growers growing dozens, if not hundreds of acres of. cover crops, and tomato crops. And they'll have thousands of feet of drip tape and they're running their minerals and our, sometimes chemical based minerals.
Sometimes you will get through fertigation system. So in this case, it makes no sense to, to build the organic matter soil, for instance, if you're dependent, For minerals on inputs from opera. And that's the, that's just one way to, and my personal preference and why I promote is the third type, which is carbon ring.
if you're a small scale producer, it makes, it makes sense. It makes economic sense as well as ecological sense from an ethical point of view. It makes sense. I rely on carbon, so I'll base carbon to hold on in the murals in your soil. And so if that's your approach, then I do promote paying attention. To building carbon into building up nice soil structure. And I do think that is important.
Diego: [00:41:17] And then through all the work that you did put in at the last farm, did you see difference? And maybe even another way of asking that is, do you think that plant resiliency to pest and disease can be lessened by the soil now?
There's obviously the streams there's, conventional sprayed soil, and there's the best soil you could ever craft in your wildest dreams. But if you're somewhere in the middle, realistic, is soil a panacea? Is it a be all end all? Is it gonna keep pests away because the plants are healthier. Is it going to keep disease away because the plants are healthier or do you think that is a myth that gets over-talked?
Ben Hartman: [00:41:59] I think it's mostly a myth it's over talk and it's also true to some extent. you will notice that you have, less pest pressure, on greenhouse crops, especially, I've seen that if you have soils that are healthy and you do have increased pest pressure and weed pressure and all kinds of other pressure, when you have four soils, however, it's mostly them.
If it's overtalks, we're going to have a, let's say a seed corn maggots, MACI Ray at our turnips. If those turnips are in our pure sand, really poor till versus growing in the best soil that I have, we're going to have those maggots. I did seen it over and over again. Cale, we're going to have worms on our kale.
no matter what, so conditions that's just is going to happen. So I think it's true in some cases. And I can't give you a straight answer on this other than to say, I think it's mostly a myth it's over.
Diego: [00:42:52] Yeah. That's just one of the things I often hear a lot about. Another one. I'd be curious to get your thoughts on, and I know you follow this because you showed some examples in a presentation at Rose Creek farms about no--till what do you think about pure, no-till on small farms, you've mentioned that you definitely see benefit in tillage and on small farms and there is a point to it. Could you go 100% no-till maybe just till thing lightly on the surface for soil amending and that's it, or do you think you'd really give up other things that do with the trade off?
Ben Hartman: [00:43:34] Okay. So first we have to have a common definition of what is known to them. And I know that, there were one straw revolution, the book by the Japanese, or who promotes the idea of just spreading the seeds. And you basically do nothing else. And that's a true Notel system. There are others.
Who's a no kill means. I can go down to three inches or two inches skim till counts as Notel, others would, you can't stick anything steel and this, all that counts is tilling. Others. You say you can't broad for that counts as stealing others, say no broad fork doesn't count as stealing. That's an aeration process.
So there's not a, we, I think right now we have a problem that we don't have. We don't have a common definition. I don't think though. I think it's important to recognize for me personally, I consider a no till system. I would have maybe a fairly strict definition. If you're going to call yourself a note to all form, this means that you're not getting out of tilt or you're not working then around even the top couple of inches, it means you're not broad forking.
I would have a fairly strict definition because it confuses people, I think. Okay. And so to me, that's what I would consider a no till. All right. However, I recognize that there are different definitions and I'm not, definitely not opposed to notes built the problem. I would have. in my current context, I shouldn't say that there's no one right way to farm, and it's a beautiful thing that people have different pharmacy systems.
And I just think that context mattered way more than often those of us who are educating them on farming give credit to. Okay. And so what I'll do is I'll speak to my context. No, till makes doesn't make complete sense for me, because like I said, I have this compost set. Can be a bit chunky. I like to do some comps in seat two, in other words, composting and places where I'm going to be Berkeley.
And so I do a bit of tickling as a way to break up the compost area, the compost in the same way that you would turn compost. Okay. So telling makes sense to me in that context for some of the equipment that I use with, with the paper pot transplanter, for instance, it's sometimes can help to do very quick till pass.
And, especially the problem I would have with no tail is bed flipping, the labor. I try to be a low labor farm because labor is the highest cost. The highest expense we have on our arm. So if we want to keep our profits, as high as we have them, we have to be careful about adding labor. And when it comes to bed, flipping, it simply takes too much or too much effort to turn over a pot.
For instance, I just got done this morning. I just seeded my Zune. I just got in from the greenhouse and I see it in my zone after pulling on it's finished. And I did pull out that spinach by hand in the greenhouse, in the Midwinter and a small plot. It doesn't make sense to till that in. Okay. However, I can tell you, it is a bit of effort.
It is a lot of efforts to hand pull out that Spinach, which is what you need to do on a technical true. No till system. You'd have to pull that stuff out by hand and you can, you can take, you can skim underneath it with wheel hoes are we'll take a shovel flat, latest shovel sometimes, and, help pry the plants loose.
you can we'd eat the plants beforehand to make it easier. Or there are tricks you can use to help ease the burden of that process, but it's still much more effort than simply telling it, telling in the crop. And so on the summertime. the fastest way to go from one, to do bed flipping on a lot of greens, especially arugula just said quickly till in that era.
and then a week and a half or two weeks, you can be dragged seeing something else. And you don't have to tell the depth of, 12 or 14 inches that arugula is happy to decompose close to the surface. You can go, three to six inches is probably sufficient on a crop. Like the arugula however, it's a massive labor savings on a small, compact farm. If you can, if you can hang on it or, and use it for, select purposes, especially with your bed-flipping.
Diego: [00:47:43] Thinking of all this bed set up. One thing, I don't think that gets talked about enough on bed preparation, maybe because it's not as exciting as building soil as getting rid of water. There's a lot of areas that get a lot of rain. And I've seen a lot of pictures of farms that just, they go under water.
When it rains, when you are amending these beds, you're preparing these beds, you're doing a lot of work in the bed, not the pathway, not necessarily the area around the bed block itself. So when a lot of rain comes down, if you have heavy clay soil, it can sit in the paths and collect and it doesn't go anywhere.
How do you think about getting water away from the beds? When you're in an area that can get high frequency, high volume rain events. And more than just raising the beds off the ground, like getting it away.
Ben Hartman: [00:48:43] We�re in the Midwest here, this is a huge topic and I'm not just smulch scale farms, but large scale farms too.
Is water management. Because with climate change, we are seeing heavy rain events. And more frequent and we're seeing a massive downpour like Goshen, the town I live in February, we had a 500 year flooding event that may or may not ever happen again. However, the trajectory is that we're going to keep having flooding events.
And so farmers regard going to have a sleep more carefully about how to do this. And so the primary thing to do is surface drainage. You want to get it away from the surface as quickly as possible. I like the farm slopes. So number one is farm slopes. If you can, and then water naturally wants to shut itself off the surface.
So even a 5% slope is better than ground it's a as year. And if you have flat ground or even a gentle slope, you want to keep an eye out for, where is concave in the middle? You don't want to see dips, and say, you've got a quarter acre plot or something you want to make sure your high point is in the middle.
And you want to think of yourself as farm on a slight convex surface. Okay. And so what I'll do if I'm building up, our plots are often about a third, I'm starting new pie by quarter or a third, an acre. And what I'll do bringing in the, I talk about when I'm adding at three to six inches of compost, what I'll do is I'll bring it up.
I didn't have the skin. I'll make sure it's a little extra thick in the middle. That's like a, that's like a roof. That's a peak. is in the middle. So everything shedding out towards the edges and then along the edges, I now form, I always formed troughs along the edges, like governors, that are maybe eight or 10 inches in width and maybe three to four inches.
And so I basically have a guttered system around each of the plots that I'm fuck with me. And you can do this by hand. P O is the fastest way to do this. Just plow around the perimeter and Palos edges in a minute naturally creates stuff, sorta around the plot that you're going in and then have all those gutters connect in the same way that a new construction on a house, you get you off and have your gutters all connect and drain one location.
And I guess they wouldn't necessarily have to. I have to all connect, but you want to make sure that they continue away from the growing. So I usually continue that gutter at least 20 feet away from where the vegetables are. And so the water is a good distance away from that. The plot, and this will help protect this in 90% of it, the heavy rain events that we have.
now there is a problem. So service is first and you may as well take care of that's the cheapest thing to do. Okay. Is manage your service. Now, there is a subs or subsurface options, too. If you have rain that just doesn't quit. It just rains and raising rains and your soul starts to plug. And when sober comes over saturated and in roots don't want to grow.
They say a common expression around here is roots. Don't want to sit in white soil vegetables. don't like your feet to get beat, to get what, and so what I have done on, each of the arms that each of the plots of land that I farmed in it, and the past 10 growing season, we're going to do this on this current one here and they're coming breeding season.
Is installed subsurface, perforated drain topicals. So these are plastic tubes, that anywhere any hardware store will have, and you need to put them, obviously the adept that's just underneath the deepest, steep goal that you're going to put in. So your deepest sub soap, pillar, that you would use, our chisel plow that you would use.
So in our case, we're going to make sure they're good. 14, 16 inch is you can do these out by hand. You can also right trenchers to do this most local runoff trencher, most local rental, the stations will you can rent, walk behind trenchers or just about anyone can handle and then put those drain tiles it then and keep them relatively close.
12th. He is not too close for larger corn soybean. We used to put them in every 30 or 60 feet sometimes for smulch scale vegetables, 12 feet, is my favorite, with, because, that you can really tell it makes a difference. And then obviously you want to think of them as gutters. You want to have them all sloping, sloping and fine, and they should terminate.
Ideally, you can find a place above the surface that they terminate, such as into a pond or a Creek, or you might want to dig. It might have to dig yourself a dry hole drywall, or a basin, or a little pond. but ideally you can, you have enough slope on your property that you can find a place that, the end of your tube and then your drained dumbbell ends up above service.
And that is a very effective way to take care of the blow surface. Water problem.
Diego: [00:53:40] It was amazing being on your farm in June. I think it was late June and I was surprised at how spongy it was. Like things were just wet, it seemed. And I think at that point it had rained, maybe a week or two before, but, it definitely was a noticeable issue and it's something that I think, I definitely take it for granted being here in Southern California, but I think a lot of farmers who are in areas like yours, they also do take it for granted and they look at it as maybe additional work, additional expense. And when you look at a brand-new farm, is that something you'd approach from day one? getting water away, tiling.
Ben Hartman: [00:54:18] Alright, this should be, and this should be one of the first projects you work on an any farm. And I would recommend sitting on it for a season to observe your water patterns, because as you can go on a website, let's see NRCS has a web cell service through the us department of agriculture website.
So if you Google web sales or survey, it'll come up and you can see an aerial map of your property, and then give you a sense for how water flows in your property. However, there's nothing like direct observation. So talk to your neighbors. Who've seen heavy rainy and it's I go and walk around that property and the heaviest rainfall and see where water, what direction is it moving in?
And that's really the best way to get a sentence. So it should be one of the first things, maybe not the first, w deserve a couple of heavy rain events and then make your decisions. however, one of the first things you should do is figure out how you're gonna manage the water, especially that surface water problem.
We can, you can always go back and add drain, but contouring land at the beginning. Very important you do, especially if you're building greenhouses, you need to build greenhouses basically on a hit ball. if you're going to farm around here, we have, six feet, our land slopes, six to eight feet away from the greenhouse.
and it's six inches, lower six feet out from the greenhouses than it is, and that self service inside the greenhouse. our greenhouse is sits up high and that makes a big difference because there's a lot of water shedding off the roof of the greenhouse. So you have that pressure in addition to sub, sub so water problems that can happen.
I the inner CS and many places now have, now we have financial help, resources and programs to help you put in a grass, water place or tiling around a greenhouse and that sort of thing. So it's worth stopping at the office and seeing what programs and an app, whether your
Diego: [00:56:06] Soil is wet, whether your soil needs more organic matter, or maybe it doesn't need more organic matter. People are gonna be hearing this in January for somebody who has soil that they've worked on last year for the past few years, how do you start to approach? Should I do anything or am I good enough? There's no sense in proving something that's working and, adding more Moda effectively to the process.
What are some basic things people could do you think this winter to either think through. Is my soil good enough or were actual tests to say, is optimum for what I'm growing & how I grow.
Ben Hartman: [00:56:48] Hi. So I keep it sound like a broken record here, but I source local carpet source, local code, low cost carbon, and get it on your property.
And winter is a great time to do it because the ground is frozen. So you can have heavy trucks, dump, poultry, manure, or whatever, and drive it right to where you need it and not worry about soaking back in springtime. can be hard time to get heavy trucks that hard for him, heavy trucks to navigate your property.
And so number one is source that carbon and number two is, it is a good time to oil tests. And if you need, if you're gonna need to purchase some mineral supplements to plan for how to go about doing that, and I would recommend getting some. Specific help. I know there are farmers who will give you specific recipes, or you can look online or books that say, so many pounds of, a blood meal to bone meal and whatnot.
However, every soil is different and, the best mix of subtleness is going to be one that's tailored specifically to your. The site that you're using. And even if you're bringing peat Moss and trying to supplement that people lost it or whatever, that there's going to be some natives oil that's mixed in with it.
It makes sense that to get some professional help and your most conservation offices around the country. We'll have people that can point you to, who will do this at low cost or no cost. So when is a great time to do that type of analysis also.
Diego: [00:58:17] For people who want to learn more about soil prep, doing their own composting on farm, you have some courses that can help teach them how show them your process, what are ones that you offer that really make sense tying into what we talked.
Ben Hartman: [00:58:32] Okay. So the subject of, I started building soils or there's a lot of overlapping themes. Of course I would recommend it. The most direct would be lean compost making mini course, because I think it makes sense to understand the basics of compost. It's not going to have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be a high cost process.
However, like I said, compost is like peat Moss on steroids. It's going to have a, it's going to have a beautiful structure that P Moss has with the minerals. and it solves weed problems, itself, nutrition problems, it solves texture problems. It cells solves soil biology problems, and it makes sense to get a handle on how to make and use compost.
So I would start, so I'm really promoted a big promoter, high carbon and spot footprint. So I would start on that one. And then I have a course called farm out bed preparation and cover cropping. And so I do, approach how I began with laying out the farm, how I decided on bed, width and length, and how I did some of that initial bed preparation.
There are videos too. I filmed myself during the process so you can see it actually. in action. and then there's one on, no, we fought me and I talk about the toolkit we use to keep weeds off from. And, a lot of that has to do with how you build oils and how you maintain them to, take, to keep minimum or mill weed pressure.
Diego: [00:59:58] There you have it, Ben Hartman on building soil. If you want to learn more from Ben about site preparation, building soil composting, be sure to check out some of the educational course offerings that he has to firstname.lastname@example.org, which I've also linked to in the show description for this episode, if you enjoy this episode, let me know what you thought.
Shoot me an email email@example.com or hit me up on Instagram at Diego footer. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. And stay warm out there. It's probably cold for some of you in certain parts of the country right now. So stay warm and enjoy your downtime. Make the best of it.
Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do
Ben Hartman: [01:00:44] the work.
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