Soil Trilogy - Regenerative Farming

Soil Trilogy - Regenerative Farming

The Soil Trilogy - Part Three: Regenerative Farming

We’ve read about soil degradation and its causes; we’ve also learned about how soil degradation affects humans’ health and wellness – now, it’s time to dive into the solution to rebuilding our soil: regenerative agriculture! Regenerative agriculture isn’t just a method of growing - it’s an entire food reformation. This practice not only reverses the negative effects of conventional farming practices, but it’s also rebuilding our soil and putting nutrients back into the ground, which means getting nutrients back into our food and bodies!

Regenerative agriculture in a nutshell

This holistic land management technique proves that growing with soil health in mind is possible. Regenerative ag keeps soil at its backbone and rehabilitates it by eliminating the growing practices that deteriorated those populations of microbes and fungal networks that, we now know, contribute to well-structured and healthy soil. Though there’s no “one way” to farm or garden regeneratively, there are a few basic principles that regenerative ag follows:

1. Low to no tilling

Image via Kiss the Ground

As we learned in the soil degradation blog, plowing and tilling erodes the soil and releases carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. The practice of low to no tilling is amazing because the longer you leave soil untouched, the more it builds up! Regenerative low to no-tilling can be done by covering beds with cardboard and compost or by using a broadfork to loosen the soil without actually inverting it, keeping the soil intact. This helps the soil retain its structure and leaving those roots and vegetation to decompose within the soil further enriches it by rebuilding deep organic matter. The decomposition helps keep the nutrients in the ground rather than lifting it out, which feeds the microbes, the beneficial insects, and passes nutrients onto the next crop growing in that area. Having these “living roots” in the ground also reduces the opportunity for weeds to grow come early spring, limiting any need for pesticides. Finally, leaving these roots ensures that there’s something keeping soil intact, helping it to absorb water during wet spells and holding in water during dry spells, decreasing the chance for soil erosion!

2. Diversifying crops

Regenerative ag rarely or never plants the same crop in the same spot twice in a row. By rotating crops throughout the field and planting radishes in a bed one season, beets in that spot the next, and so on, the soil receives a variety of beneficial nutrients. Just like we read in the previous blog, soil – like humans – benefits from a mixed diet, and feeds on the sugars released from crops. Having a variety of nutrients not only results in more productive growing soil, but it also guarantees greater nutrient-dense food for us! By restoring degraded soil biodiversity and creating a more complex ecosystem that encourages long-term fertility in the soil, we’re improving its quality while also maximizing the profitability of the soil.

3. Using Cover Crops

Leaving soil bare for a long period of time leaves it exposed to the elements, causing it to further erode.  Succession planting or cover cropping solves this problem through immediately planting a crop in the soil once the previous is finished. Unless it’s a root vegetable, regenerative practices recommend cutting down to the stalk of the crop, like salad or greens, leaving the roots within the ground. This prevents the disturbance of the soil and once again leaves the roots to decompose. This also means you can plant immediately, rather than having to wait weeks to plant the next crop in your bed! The leftover roots will break down and help feed the next plant going in, speeding up the growth and strength of the following seed. Though succession planting requires a bit of planning ahead of time, it will greatly help in maximizing the productivity of a smaller growing space. Having a crop growing in a bed at most times also maintains a constant stream of greenery, which will continuously absorb more carbon from our atmosphere.


4. Companion Planting

By strengthening the soil, it will naturally become more resistant to disease and pest problems but won’t eliminate them altogether. We want to keep beneficial insects in while keeping feasting pests out, and the cure for that is companion planting. Companion planting is using crop properties to naturally deter pests from other crops. For example, what eats carrots may be deterred by tomatoes, so it’s good to plant these side by side. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the chart linked above, as there are also things that shouldn’t be planted together, like rows and rows of kale and cabbage together, as the same pest can attack your entire crop, leaving you with no food and no profit. Companion planting will also help prevent the competition for nutrients, as carrots and tomatoes require vastly different nutrients to grow, and will help your crop grow to its full potential faster. Once again, companion planting takes a bit more planning up front, but the upkeep is easier as you won’t have to worry about mending or tending to infested crops or damaged soil from sprays.

5. Rotational grazing

Livestock always get a bad rep when it comes to climate change and methane release, but the key here is to get the cattle moving! If livestock stay on the same plot, they will eat the greenery through to the roots, leaving it with no chance to regrow. Regenerative ag practices “rotational grazing”, which encourages cattle to free-roam to another spot once they’re finished eating, and fencing them off from the previously grazed area. Free-roam gives the plants a chance to regrow, which is greatly possible because the livestock has fertilized it while grazing. This relationship is vastly misunderstood, and if you do use livestock on your property, there is a way to do it sustainably and in a way that helps rebuild soil and sequester (trap) carbon into the ground.

Regenerative agriculture at home

You don’t have to be a farmer to grow regeneratively right in your home or neighborhood! All of these practices can be applied to your home or community garden. Now that you know the principles to follow, you’re well equipped to start transitioning into regenerative planting! The key is to keep as much diversity in your garden as possible, and implementing trees and other large green spaces to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. As much as agriculture is a cause for climate change, it’s also a huge part of the solution. Regenerative agriculture shows us that it’s entirely possible to provide our booming population with fresh, healthy food, that’s also grown in a sustainable soil ecosystem. The main takeaway is that if we take care of the soil, the soil will take care of us.

Healthy soil leads to a healthy plant, which leads to a healthy human and a healthy climate.

Did you miss the first two posts in our Soil Trilogy series? Check out Part 1 where we explain how soil degradation occurs. In Part 2, we dive into the negative effects soil health has on human health.


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